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Under New Maps, Mecklenburg Democratic Candidates Have Edge

NC General Assembly
The proposed House map for Mecklenburg County. Demcorats currently have all 12 House seats in the county.

To draw new state House and Senate maps, the legislature relied heavily on University of Michigan professor Jowei Chen, who testified on behalf of Common Cause and Democrats in their gerrymandering lawsuit earlier this year.

Legislative staff picked what they believed were his best maps. To pick the maps that would be used as a starting point for debate, the North Carolina lottery was summoned. 

Five balls representing the maps were placed in a lottery machine, and the winning maps floated to the top. 

The new House and Senate maps – approved on Tuesday by the General Assembly – will likely further solidify the Democrats' overwhelming majorities in the Mecklenburg legislative delegation.  (The maps now go to the court, which will decide whether they are enacted.)

Natasha Marcus

For instance, Democrat Natasha Marcus represents state Senate District 41 that includes Davidson, Cornelius and Huntersville – and Ballantyne.

Her new district would be compact. It would cover the north Mecklenburg towns, along with north Charlotte.

Would that district make it easier for her to win re-election?

"I don’t want to know partisan data," Marcus said. "I don’t want to know racial data about the maps that we proposed and that we are voting on."

(The court order said that legislators could not use political data when creating the new maps.)

But the map chosen by the lottery does, in fact, give her a boost. 

Hillary Clinton won the precincts in her current district by 8 percentage points. In the proposed new district? Clinton won by 20.

Marcus says both Democrats and Republicans support the new Senate maps, which, for the most part, took politics out of their creation.

"In think in the end, we ended up with maps – despite the best efforts of some members to re-gerrymander them – we shut that down," she said. "And by the end, the Senate maps are pretty fair."

Democrats today control four of five Mecklenburg Senate seats, and all 12 House seats.

Catawba College political science professor Michael Bitzer says he expects the new maps mean Democrats will likely win that fifth Senate seat next year. 

Senate seat 39 was held by Republican Dan Bishop, who was recently elected to Congress.

That seat today includes south Charlotte, along with Matthews and Mint Hill. That district has been split into three different Senate districts - 37, 39 and 40 - that all have more Democratic voters. 

Bitzer says there is still one Republican-leaning House seat in north Mecklenburg, which is held by Democrat Christy Clark. There are also three toss-up House seats in south Charlotte - Districts 103, 104 and 105.

But in the new maps, those toss-ups are now more Democratic than before.

"It's hard to envision that unless there is a Republican wave year, any of those districts necessarily going Republican," Bitzer said.

One example is House Seat 105 which is south of Interstate 485 in Charlotte. 

Democrat Wesley Harris upset Republican incumbent Scott Stone by more than 4 percentage points in a district that Clinton won by less than a half of a percentage point.

Harris’ new district would be more Democratic. Clinton won the new district by nearly 7 points. 

The wealthy Piper Glen neighborhood is out. In its place, a minority-majority precinct along South Boulevard that historically votes overwhelmingly for Democrats.

Harris says he hasn't studied the proposed new District 105. He says much of his fate depends on who Democrats nominate for president.

"None of these are going to be gimmies, regardless of how good or bad the political data looks," Harris said.

Stone – who is running for lieutenant governor - says the new maps make winning harder for the GOP. But a bigger problem is that once-friendly GOP areas are shifting to Democrats, like Precinct 227 near Providence Road.

"That votes at McKee Elementary, and that used to be a great Republican precinct," Stone said. "And now it’s a toss-up. It’s not the maps, so much as the precincts are changing."

The court’s ruling did not require the legislature re-make all legislative maps. There were a handful of clusters of districts that were unconstitutional, including in Wake and Mecklenburg counties.

In last year’s election, Democrats broke the Republican’s super-majorities in both chambers.

Bitzer says the early statewide analysis suggests the new maps may help Democrats win a few new seats statewide, but probably not enough to win the majorities in the House or Senate. 

Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.