The Charlotte City Council committee on redistricting has released three council district maps for public review — each with various changes that would shape local elections over the next decade.
One of the three proposals poses a potential threat to Republicans. If approved, the map could degrade the party’s grip on the southern wedge of the city, a potentially serious blow as the party currently controls just two of the 11 seats on City Council.
A consultant presented four maps during the committee’s meeting on Wednesday. One was not approved to move forward out of concern it did not meet certain redistricting criteria.
Council members are tasked with approving new City Council district lines to accommodate population changes over the past decade. Those population changes were revealed by the 2020 Census, and showed that some existing districts are significantly more populous than others.
The new districts will be in place until the next Census, in 2030. The city is legally obligated to submit its final redistricting plan to the Mecklenburg County Board of Elections by Nov. 17.
Members of the public can comment on the new maps during a listening session on Oct. 5. To view the draft maps, visit the City Council Committees page at charlottenc.gov, and click “Redistricting Ad Hoc.”
Following the comment period, the council plans to hold a public hearing on the revised changes. Then, in November, it plans to adopt a final draft and send it to the board of elections. The Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners is also in the process of redistricting.
How Charlotte’s districts could change
New voting maps must meet certain criteria to ensure fair and equal voting power for all residents. An important legal requirement is that all districts must have substantially equal population. Courts have ruled districts should be “reasonably compact” to avoid gerrymandering, and that districts may follow neighborhood and cultural lines.
The racial makeup of a district can be considered, but it should not be the predominant factor, courts have ruled. The redrawing process can also take into account the growth rate of neighborhoods within it, to avoid a large population disparity in the coming years.
Although the committee previously voted to not consider maintaining the current partisan makeup of districts, members discussed the impact to partisanship while reviewing every new draft map on Wednesday.
Redistricting in North Carolina has been notoriously partisan. As elected officials redraw voting maps, the party in power has historically used the opportunity to gain advantage in upcoming elections — a process called gerrymandering.
In 2019, a North Carolina court ruled that the state’s congressional map was illegally gerrymandered to favor Republicans. The legislature is currently in the process of redrawing state legislative and congressional districts.
Charlotte, though, is controlled by Democrats. Of its 11 City Council members, just two are Republican. The city has seven members who represent voting districts, as well as four at-large members.
The two Republican-controlled districts — Districts 6 and 7 — are both in the southern wedge of the city. They are substantially more white than the other five districts and both have over 30% Republican registration.
Still, they are not solidly Republican. Of the registered voters in District 6, 30.7% are Republican, 31.2% are Democrats and 38.1% are unaffiliated or belong to smaller parties. District 7 is 32.7% Republican, 27.2% Democrat and 40.1% unaffiliated.
Of the other five districts, the highest Republican registration is 16%. Republican registration citywide is 18.7%.
The new maps
Two of the three new draft voting maps would shift more than a dozen precincts from one district to another.
The other map, Draft Plan A, would move just three precincts, including a Democratic-stronghold into the Republican-controlled District 6. The map would also not take into account the growth of the city’s fastest-growing districts, likely leading to population imbalances over the next decade.
Although Charlotte’s voting districts are supposed to be relatively equal in population, growth patterns over the past 10 years have made some much more populous than others.
District 3, in west Charlotte, has nearly 141,000 residents while Districts 1 and 6 have fewer than 115,000. To be equal, each district would have just shy of 125,000 residents.
Managing for population balance while taking growth into account has been difficult, said Mac McCarley, the former city attorney who is now a partner with the law firm Parker Poe, which has helped manage the redistricting process.
A precinct, where registered voters cast their ballots, can vary in size based on how many people live in the area. Redistricting includes moving small or large voting precincts in or out of an established council seat district.
Charlotte’s smallest precinct has about 1,800 residents according to the Census, while its largest has about 19,000.
Draft Plan B presented Wednesday would change the partisan makeup of District 6 only slightly, increasing the percentage of Republicans by 0.4% and decreasing the percentage of Democrats by 0.5%. Draft Plans A and C would be more consequential.
Draft Plan A would increase the percentage of Democrats in District 6 by 1.2%, and decrease the percentage of Republicans by 0.8% — potentially posing a threat to Republican candidates there. Draft Plan C would decrease Democratic representation in District 6 by 1.5% and increase Republican representation by 1.2%.
The committee did not discuss the proposed changes to each district’s racial makeup.
Allegations of gerrymandering
Councilman Tariq Bokhari, a Republican, tweeted on Wednesday that committee Chairman Malcolm Graham “got his hand caught in the cookie jar gerrymandering” after it came to light that the committee had voted to not take partisan makeup of districts into account.
Graham, during a press conference following the committee meeting, called the allegation “nonsense,” saying that the committee has tried to be transparent and will continue to seek public input.
“The maps speak for themselves,” Graham said.
McCarley agreed, saying that the new maps keep neighborhoods intact. Because of that, two of the three draft maps maintain the partisan makeup of districts 6 and 7, he said. Bokhari is the elected City Council member from District 6; Councilman Ed Driggs is from District 7.
The maps that didn’t make it
Committee members voted to not allow one map — drawn with the input of councilman Braxton Winston, a Democrat — that would have redrawn Charlotte’s districts by their access to transit corridors.
Winston is the only council member who made his own map, though others did provide input about certain precincts and about what neighborhoods should not be divided into multiple districts, McCarley said.
At least two other maps that were drawn by Winston did not make the committee for presentation.
Winston, who is not a committee member but was present at the meeting, said he helped create maps to try and disrupt “the crescent and wedge nature of our City Council districts.”
Maps have been drawn to match a “communities of interest” criteria. For example, District 4 is dominated by University City, home to UNC Charlotte. Districts 6 and 7 are whiter than the rest of the city.
Because neighborhoods across Charlotte are largely divided by race, the city has a segregated housing pattern — and the new redistricting maps reflect that, McCarley said, responding to a question from Winston.
“Our political lines have been drawn to match the segregated nature of our city,” Winston said. He added that the council should take steps to disrupt segregation, including by using redistricting, and tweeted on Wednesday that the process was a “hypocritical farce.”
Winston’s map was shot down by the committee. Driggs, a Republican, said Winston’s map should not move forward because it was drawn using transit corridors, which is not one of the agreed-upon criteria. It would also deteriorate the Republican advantage in District 7, which Driggs represents.