Under the Dome

Gerrymandering called unsafe bet for GOP

North Carolina is growing so fast that it could pick up a 14th seat in Congress in the 2020 reapportionment.

But the state’s growth has been uneven, and that makes it a gamble to focus on partisan gerrymandering as a means of controlling partisan elections.

Those are the observations presented Tuesday by a pair of university professors at a news conference sponsored by a group that promotes independent redistricting for legislative and congressional maps.

The year “2020 is a question mark and the question the two parties need to ask themselves is can they bet their parties’ futures on the outcome of the 2020 election?" said Jane Pinsky, director of the nonpartisan N.C. Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform.

The state has been growing faster than the national growth rate for decades, according to Rebecca Tippett, director of Carolina Demography at the Carolina Population Center at UNC-Chapel Hill. She said seven North Carolina counties were among the 100 fastest-growing in the country between 2010 and 2015, while 48 of the 100 counties lost population.

The shifts in population make it certain that new maps will have to be drawn, Tippett said.

"For our elected officials, these dramatic population shifts mean that their districts may well look very different in five or 10 years than they do now,” said Mark Nance, a political scientist at NC State University. “This spells trouble for politicians who see gerrymandering as their primary electoral strategy.

“Mix that with the win-small, lose-big strategy of gerrymandering, and the ironic result is that the majority party will feel the brunt of these shifts first, as once-safe districts become competitive again. For that reason, it's arguably in all of their interests to put in place an insurance policy for redistricting that honors the principle of one person, one vote."

Republicans took over the majority of the General Assembly in 2011, and promptly redrew the maps, leading to legal challenges by Democrats that are still pending.