Under the Dome

Shifting NC population means unequal representation, study finds

Residents of northeastern North Carolina have an outsized representation both in the state legislature and the U.S. Congress, according to data released this week by the Carolina Population Center at UNC-Chapel Hill.

That’s because many rural counties have seen their populations shrink since legislative and Congressional districts were drawn based on 2010 U.S. Census numbers.

Meanwhile, suburban districts in southwestern Wake County have seen some of the state’s fastest growth since 2010 – meaning more residents must share the same representatives until the districts are redrawn in 2020.

That means shrinking rural counties will be more likely to share lawmakers after 2020, while counties like Wake and Mecklenburg could add additional legislators to their delegations.

Though that shift might seem to favor Democrats, the Population Center’s data indicate that’s not necessarily the case.

Many of the fastest-shrinking districts are represented by Democrats, while a number of the fast-growing suburban districts have elected Republicans – or are swing districts where the two political parties are evenly matched.

Biggest state Senate district: Senate District 17 in southwestern Wake is now home to more than 22,900 additional residents than the ideal Senate district size. That’s 11.5 percent more people than the ideal Senate district population of 198,879.

Sen. Tamara Barringer, a Cary Republican, currently holds the seat, which also includes Apex, Holly Springs and Fuquay-Varina.

Biggest state House district: House District 41, also in southwestern Wake, has about 15,200 more people than the ideal size – or 18.3 percent more people than a district should have.

Rep. Gale Adcock, a Cary Democrat, currently holds the seat, but it’s hardly a safe district for the party – Adcock narrowly defeated an incumbent Republican, Tom Murry, last year.

Biggest U.S. Congressional district in state: Ninth District Congressman Robert Pittenger, a Charlotte Republican, represents the district that now has 41,000 more people than the ideal district population – a difference of 5.4 percent. The district includes rural and suburban areas between Mecklenburg County and Statesville.

Smallest state Senate district: Senate District 3, which spans eight counties in northeastern North Carolina, now has 24,300 fewer people than the ideal district size – a 12.2 percent difference.

Democratic Sen. Erica Smith-Ingram holds the seat serving Bertie, Chowan, Edgecombe, Hertford, Martin, Northampton, Tyrrell and Washington counties. The senator there will likely have to juggle a ninth county after the next Census.

Smallest state House district: Democratic Rep. Michael Wray’s District 27 overlaps with Smith-Ingram and includes Halifax and Northampton counties. It’s now home to 9,400 fewer people, an 11.4 percent drop below the ideal district size.

Smallest U.S. Congressional district in state: It’s a northeastern district again – Democratic Congressman G.K. Butterfield’s District 1, which stretches from Durham to Elizabeth City. It’s now 2.9 percent, or 22,000 people, smaller than the ideal district size.

Check out the data and handy maps of the district trends here.