North Carolina’s new political maps have their first test Tuesday, but it’s not yet clear how the changes will affect the state’s representation in Congress.
The existing districts sent 10 Republicans and three Democrats to the U.S. House. Republicans who drew those districts remain in charge and have also created the ones being used for Tuesday’s primary election. Like Democrats before them, they’ve drawn the new maps to win seats in Congress.
“I don’t expect a lot of changes in terms of the makeup of the congressional delegation,” said Martin Kifer, political science professor and poll director at High Point University. “The partisanship has not changed much at all.
“It’s more of a potential for voter confusion than it is likely to bias the outcome in any particular direction.”
Politicized and court-ordered mapmaking has left us with an odd and potentially confusing election:
▪ It’s an unusual time of year for a primary, especially since North Carolina just had one in March. Votes cast for congressional candidates in that contest didn’t count.
▪ With brand-new districts, in many parts of the state people are seeing TV ads and fliers and casting ballots for candidates they don’t know.
▪ For the first time there is no congressional runoff: The winner takes all, no matter how few votes cast for that candidate. That’s true even in the relocated and wide-open 13th Congressional District stretching from Mooresville to Greensboro, where Republicans can choose among 17 candidates.
▪ The marquee race in the Triangle pits two incumbents against each other.
The 13th district, where Republican U.S. Rep. George Holding has held office since 2013, has moved westward. So Holding is running in the 2nd District — represented by Republican U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers — even though he doesn’t live there. Add to the 2nd District mix Greg Brannon, a Cary physician who lost in the March Republican Senate primary to incumbent Sen. Richard Burr.
What is certain to be a low-turnout election will cost the state about $9.5 million, according to a coalition promoting partisan redistricting reform.
“A lot of people are going to be shocked and surprised that there’s even an election,” said Mitch Kokai, a policy analyst with the John Locke Foundation. “There is going to be quite a bit of confusion about where things stand.”
It’s all because of redistricting.
North Carolina has been embroiled in lawsuits during the past two decades, with Democratic and then Republican majorities drawing maps after every 10-year census to their own advantage.
Just a few weeks before the March primaries this year, a federal court ruled the 1st and 12th districts in effect since 2011 had to be reconfigured before further elections were held because race had been the primary consideration in creating them.
The state went ahead with most of the primary but moved the congressional election to June 7. It was too late to print new ballots for the March election. So the congressional candidates’ names remained on the ballot but votes cast for them did not count. Absentee ballots had to be mailed again.
It wasn’t until Thursday that federal judges upheld the revised map and removed the final potential legal barrier to the election with less than a week to go.
What new districts reveal
So what does that leave us with? Here’s a closer look at who lives in the new districts and what their voting patterns might mean for the general election in November.
▪ By one measure — the share of votes Republican Thom Tillis received in the 2014 Senate race — 7 of 13 districts are more friendly to Republicans under the new maps than the old ones.
For Republicans in the relatively liberal 4th District, which runs from Orange County into the heart of Wake County, the changes cut their losing margin by more than a third: from 41.3 percentage points to 26 percentage points.
The 2nd, clustered from northeast to south of Wake County, would have gone GOP by a 15.5-percentage-point margin contrasted with 9.9 percentage points in 2014. In the 1st District that runs northeast from Durham, a 31.6-percentage-point loss for Republicans would have been reduced to 27.8 percentage points.
▪ When measuring instead based on the share of votes going to Republican Pat McCrory in the 2012 governor’s race, just five of 13 districts improved for Republicans. One of the most dramatic turnarounds by that standard, though, shows up in the 4th District. The new map slashes the GOP’s losing margin in that district from 25.4 percentage points to 1.4 percentage point.
Only three districts went majority Democrat that year: the 1st, 4th and 12th Districts, and that remains true under the new map.
▪ Districts where Democrats improved substantially are few and far between: The 13th District would have picked up more Democratic votes in both the 2012 race for governor (cutting the GOP margin of victory from 27.9 to 17.1 percentage points) and president (a difference of 17.3 to 5.9 percentage points). The 8th District, in the south central part of the state, would have reduced the GOP margin in the governor’s race from 31.8 percentage points to 19.7. Other Democratic gains were small and mostly emerge in the gubernatorial race.
▪ There has been a steady erosion of two-party registration in the state as unaffiliated voters have increased. Statewide, 40 percent of voters are registered Democrats, 30 percent are Republicans and 29 percent are unaffiliated.
In congressional districts near the Triangle, the breakdown in the 4th district is 44.3 percent Democrat, 20.9 percent Republican and 34.2 percent unaffiliated. In the 2nd, it’s 36.4 percent Democrat, 34.6 percent Republican and 28.6 percent unaffiliated. In the 1st, it’s a 61 percent Democratic stronghold, with 16 percent Republican and 22.7 percent unaffiliated. The strongest district for GOP registration is the 5th, in the northwestern corner of the state, at 37.9 percent.
▪ By race, 72.6 percent of the registered voters in the 2nd district are white and 19.7 percent are black. In the 4th, it’s 63.5 percent white and 22.4 percent black; and in the 1st, 47.1 percent white and 45.5 percent black.
Kokai says the cycle of redistricting and legal challenges isn’t likely to be broken unless politicians are willing to set aside self-interest.
“As long as maps are drawn by people who benefit from them, the other party is always going to challenge it,” he said. “No election is going to be safe until both sides at least grudgingly accept the process.”
Who voted early?
Early voting ended Saturday ahead of Tuesday’s primary. Here’s what tabulations through Friday show.
Votes cast through Friday: 73,793
Votes cast at this point in March primary: 92,391
Total March primary votes: 2,332,058
Among those who have voted so far:
Most votes cast: 7,726 in the 13th Congressional District
2nd District: 5,585
4th District: 5,152
Fewest votes cast: 2,543 in the 7th District
Source: ncvotetracker.com, a project of the Civitas Institute
A photo identification must be presented to vote.
Those who don’t have a photo ID due to “a reasonable impediment” are allowed to cast provisional ballots. Examples of reasonable impediments are lack of proper documents, family obligations, transportation problems, work schedule, illness or disability.
Voters in that situation will have to sign a declaration describing their impediment. They will have to provide their birthdate and last four digits of their Social Security number, or a current voter registration card or copy of a proper document with their name and address, such as a utility bill or bank statement.
Provisional ballots are counted after the information is verified.
More about photo ID requirements can be found at http://voterid.nc.gov/
Polls are open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Source: State Board of Elections