North Carolina Republicans cheered the come-from-behind victory of their U.S. Senate candidate Thom Tillis, but they’ve been relatively silent about their overwhelming success in the state’s congressional districts.
Perhaps they’re sheepish about how they arranged the big win. They should be.
Republicans won the General Assembly in 2010 and with it the right to redraw the state’s election districts. They, like the Democrats before them, drew the lines to make a majority of districts tilt in their favor. But they overdid it. The results from the 2014 general election look more like an indictment of Republican manipulation of the election process than an endorsement of Republican policies.
More than 2.7 million votes were cast in the Senate race, with Tillis beating U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan by fewer than 47,000 votes, or less than 2 percent of the vote. That statewide result would suggest an almost even split between Republicans and Democrats, but the political competition evaporates in the congressional districts.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The News & Observer
Republicans won 10 of the state’s 13 districts by overwhelming numbers. Six candidates won with 60 percent of the vote or better, and the other four won with 57, 58 and 59 percent. Indeed, the warping of the map was even clearer in districts where Democrats won. GOP mapmakers have so concentrated Democratic voters that the three Democrats each won with more than 70 percent of the vote in a supposedly Republican year.
Where is the democracy in those results? In North Carolina, registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 2.7 million to 2 million. (There are 1.8 million unaffiliated voters.) Yet North Carolina’s congressional delegation has three times more Republicans than Democrats. Even though maps drawn by Democrats favored their party, the delegation split was only 7-6 in their favor in 2010. And there was enough balance in state legislative districts to allow Republicans to take a majority in the General Assembly.
In the state legislative races, there was more of the same. A recent Elon University poll shows the legislature’s popularity at 30 percent. Yet Republicans lost only three House seats and actually gained a seat in the state Senate. Nearly one half of the legislature’s 170 seats are considered so safe they went uncontested in the November election.
The 2014 results point anew to the need for nonpartisan redistricting. Former Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker, a Democrat, and former Charlotte Mayor Richard Vinroot, a Republican, have taken up that cause with a coalition called End Gerrymandering Now. Meeker said the maps have essentially disenfranchised voters in districts dominated by a party other than their own.
Fixing the problem is not only a matter of lines. For more success, Democrats will have to find a way to increase their appeal among the white rural voters Republicans have allotted to weigh the maps in their favor. And Democrats will have to run quality candidates in more races. Patsy Keever, a former state representative from Asheville who was gerrymandered out her seat, is running to lead the state Democratic Party in 2015.
“One of my jobs would be to ensure that every single one of those seats has someone who is running,” she said Wednesday after announcing her candidacy. “The citizens deserve a choice.”
Congressional and legislative voting maps are redrawn every 10 years to adjust to the latest U.S. census. The process has always been political, but advances in computer mapping and the Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act have allowed the partisan mapping to get more lopsided than ever
Democrats and voting rights groups have sued to have the district maps thrown out as unfair to African-American voters. The case is before the Republican-dominated state Supreme Court, which in a delay that itself seems partisan, failed to rule before the November election despite having had the case for 11 months. But no matter what the high court decides, the 2014 results have already delivered a verdict – democracy lost.