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Pols Adept At Picking Voters


A bipartisan bill has been introduced in the NC House of Representatives to hand over the redistricting process to an independent commission, and thus give up one of the most important powers that any majority party has: Pre-determining which party will win each district through political gerrymandering.

The legislation would charge the Legislative Services Office with drawing congressional and legislative districts without the use of “political affiliations of registered voters, previous election returns, [or] demographic information, other than population head counts.” 

In addition, the bill states that no district “shall be drawn for the purpose of favoring a political party, incumbent legislator, or member of Congress, or other person or group, or for the purpose of augmenting or diluting the voting strength of a language or racial minority group,” along with barring the use “of any of the addresses or geographic locations of incumbents.”

In the game of politics, this would be a radical departure for the next round of redistricting in the state in 2021—but one that would probably earn the legislators some form of public admiration.

In looking at the consequences of the redistricting done by Republicans in 2011, we can see what the “victors” do with their spoils.

Republicans created safe districts for both themselves and for Democrats—but created disproportionately more districts for the GOP than the opposition.

In the state Senate, six contests out of 50 could be considered “competitive” (meaning that the winner received less than 55 percent of the vote).  In fact, three times as many seats (18) had no opposition contesting the election.

If all of the state Senate votes for Democratic and Republican candidates were added up across the state, Democrats garnered 47 percent to Republican’s 53 percent.  But Republicans ended up with 66 percent of the seats to the Democrats’ 34 percent, creating a disproportionate advantage for the Republican party.

In the state House, a similar pattern emerged: Republican candidates garnered 51 percent of the total statewide vote, but won 64 percent of the seats in the chamber.

In fact, nearly half of the 120 seats in the House went uncontested (27 automatically went to Republicans, while 28 went to Democrats).  A little over 10 percent (14 seats) could be considered “competitive” in terms of the winner securing less than 55 percent of the vote.

Another way to look at this gerrymandering is to explore the relationship between presidential voting in the district and the voting for the district’s legislative candidates. If the district was “competitive,” then there could be districts that, for example, voted for Obama while, at the same time, voted for a Republican for the House.

In only 10 percent of the 120 House seats did the presidential candidate of one party win in the same district as the opposition party’s legislative candidate.  For example, in District 92, Obama carried the district with 54 percent of the vote while the Republican state House candidate won with 51 percent of the vote. 

In District 119, Mitt Romney won the district with 51 percent of the presidential vote while the Democratic legislative candidate won the same district with 52 percent of the vote. 

With so few districts having ‘split-ticket voting’ patterns, it is notable that the Romney vote in a district has a strong correlation to the vote cast for the Republican House candidate.

Romney and House & Senate GOP1.jpeg

Correlation between a District Voting for Mitt Romney
and the Republican State House and Senate Candidates

In the upper chamber, only two districts out of 50 saw the two parties split the contests for president and state Senate. 

In District 19, Obama won by a little over 500 votes, but the Republican won the state Senate seat with 54 percent of the vote.  In District 25, Romney won with 58 percent while the Democrat claimed the senate seat with 53 percent of the vote.

One could attribute the strong correlation in both chambers between the presidential and state legislative races to the drawing of district lines that favor one party over another from the top of the ballot down. 

But if the districts were drawn without regard to party affiliation, past election results, and ignorance of an incumbent’s address, the legislative races in North Carolina might reflect a long-held belief of American democracy - that the voters should pick the candidates, rather than the candidates picking the voters.