© 2022 WFAE
90.7 Charlotte 93.7 Southern Pines 90.3 Hickory 106.1 Laurinburg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
The 2022 midterm elections will be the first of the Biden era. They will also be the first since the 2020 census, which means likely changes to congressional districts. There will be at least two open U.S. Senate races in the Carolinas as well, with the seats held by Richard Burr in North Carolina and Tim Scott in South Carolina up for grabs. Both Burr and Scott are Republicans. Burr is not seeking reelection, and jockeying for his seat began as early as January 2021.

North Carolina gerrymandering trial begins with claims of maps rigged for Republicans

University of Michigan political science professor, seen here in a still taken from a live stream provided by WRAL, Jowei Chen said North Carolina's congressional map is a "partisan outlier."

A gerrymandering trial over North Carolina’s congressional and state legislative maps began Monday morning in Raleigh, with experts saying that the state’s maps give an unfair advantage to Republicans.

A three-judge panel will decide whether the maps need to be redrawn to give Democrats more opportunities to win seats.

Much of the testimony during the first day focused on the state’s congressional map, which gives Republicans the advantage in 10 of 14 seats. The current map gives the GOP the edge in eight seats and Democrats the edge in five.

The state added a 14th seat after the 2020 census.

The first witness was Michigan political science professor Jowei Chen, who ran a computer simulation of potential 1,000 maps. He said the GOP-approved map is a “a partisan outlier both in the statewide level as well as respect to the individual districts.”

He added that “the Republican bias in the enacted plan can not be explained by North Carolina’s political geography.”

By political geography, he means that Republicans will have a built-in advantage because Democratic voters are mostly clustered together in cities. That means that Democratic voters are not efficiently distributed across the state.

Chen said that a typical map would not only have more Democratic leaning seats but that the seats that did favor Republicans would be closer to a 50-50 split, meaning either party would have a chance of winning.

Republicans have countered that Chen’s own analysis shows that in roughly 70% of Chen’s simulated maps, Republicans would be favored to win nine seats.

Defense attorney Patrick Lewis, who is representing the Republican-controlled legislature, questioned Chen about a newly drawn seat that includes almost all of the city of Charlotte. He asked whether that seat centered around Charlotte was going to pack Democratic voters into one district no matter how it was drawn.

Chen said yes. But he added that the Republican map went beyond what was expected in the Charlotte district that’s now the 9th.

“In the simulated plans, that Charlotte district is not quite as extremely packed as the enacted plan’s (9th District),” he said.

The most Republican parts of the city of Charlotte were placed into a neighboring Republican-leaning district, the 8th.

The plaintiffs in this week’s lawsuit include the North Carolina League of Conservation Voters and a group of Democratic voters who are aligned with former Obama Attorney General Eric Holder. Holder’s organization, the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, is suing nationwide over what it says are gerrymandered maps.

They also called as a witness Western Carolina political science professor Chris Cooper. He said Republican map makers divided Guilford County into three districts to dilute Democratic voters in Greensboro.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Kathy Manning, who represents Greensboro today, has seen her seat essentially eliminated.

Cooper said Republicans had “double-bunked” Republican U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx and Manning in the same district.

“They have double-bunked a Republican and a Democrat together into the same district — in a district that leans heavily to the Republican Party,” Cooper said. “(They are) essentially making sure Kathy Manning will not be reelected.”

The trial before a three-judge panel is expected to finish Thursday. The defense is expected to call its witnesses Tuesday.

Last month, the state Supreme Court postponed North Carolina’s primary from March until May so the gerrymandering issue could be settled.

It’s expected that the losing side in this week’s trial will appeal to the state’s highest court.

Sign up for our weekly politics newsletter

Select Your Email Format