On Wednesday, state legislators will hear from members of the public in Raleigh about the redistricting process, in which new political maps will be drawn for the 2024 elections.
The maps drawn this fall will help decide which candidates voters have to choose from next year, whether Republicans keep a supermajority in the legislature and possibly even who controls Congress at the national level.
Redistricting has often been a fraught process in North Carolina, where courts have struck down maps several times over concerns of partisan gerrymandering — in which legislators strategically draw districts to benefit their own party.
With the process beginning again, here are some things to know about how redistricting works, its recent history in the state and opportunities to talk to lawmakers about it.
How can I share my thoughts?
Members of the public can attend the joint Redistricting and Elections committee meeting at 4 p.m. on Wednesday in room 643 of the Legislative Office Building, located at 300 N. Salisbury St. in Raleigh.
For those who can’t attend in person, the meeting will be live-streamed on the legislature’s website.
What is redistricting?
Every 10 years, the state is required to draw new legislative and congressional maps in accordance with new data from the U.S. Census. The process is meant to ensure that the districts lawmakers run in adequately represent the population of the state.
Although this is meant to be a relatively infrequent process, North Carolina has had new legislative maps every year but one since 2017, usually due to court cases regarding partisan gerrymandering.
Who’s in charge of making the maps?
In North Carolina, the General Assembly has full control over the redistricting process. This is the case in most of the country, although some states have begun using independent commissions that limit participation from elected officials to draw maps.
Courts also have the ability to strike down maps if they find they have unconstitutionally gerrymandered districts. Republican leaders in North Carolina recently argued in the U.S. Supreme Court that state legislatures should have full authority over redistricting without the potential for judicial review. The court did not agree with this theory.
However, in a recent decision from the state Supreme Court, the Republican justices said that determining partisan gerrymandering was not within the court’s purview.
Didn’t we just get new maps?
Yes. After a contentious gerrymandering trial, in which the state Supreme Court found maps legislators drew in 2021 to be unconstitutional, a bipartisan group of experts were asked to design the congressional map for the 2022 elections.
That map resulted in a 7-7 split between Democrats and Republicans in the state’s 2022 elections for the U.S. House.
However, the court-ordered congressional map can only be used for one election cycle. Now, lawmakers will have to draw districts once again, but this time they may be less likely to face scrutiny from the state’s high court.
After Republicans swept statewide judicial elections in 2022, the state Supreme Court reversed an earlier ruling striking down legislative maps and said the court did not have jurisdiction over claims of partisan gerrymandering.
The ruling also decreed that the General Assembly could enact new legislative maps, rather than simply reverting to the maps that had been previously struck down.
Will I be able to see how legislators draw the new maps?
Under current law, most communications and drafting materials used in the redistricting process are confidential until new maps are approved. After the maps are put in place, most of the documentation that went into creating them becomes public record.
That doesn’t mean the public has gotten a full view. In a gerrymandering trial last year, GOP redistricting leader Rep. Destin Hall admitted that he had used secret reference maps during the redistricting process. When plaintiffs in the case asked to see these maps, they were told the maps no longer existed.
Now there are new obstacles to access. Lawmakers slipped a provision into the new state budget, which is expected to become law next week, that repeals access to these records.
Once the budget with the new provision goes into effect, it appears lawmakers will not be required to fulfill any public records requests concerning the creation of new maps.
Over 50 groups, led by Common Cause NC, sent a letter to lawmakers on Monday expressing concern about the budget provision and demanding an “open and transparent” redistricting process.
“We urge you to make the promise of democracy real by leading a redistricting process that creates voting plans reflective of the actual demographics, values, interests, and needs of North Carolinians,” the letter said.
When will new maps be approved?
Senate leader Phil Berger told reporters last week that he hoped to hold votes on redistricting by the week of Oct. 9.
Capitol Bureau Chief Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan contributed to this report.
Monster, Part 1: So you want to make a map...
In the first episode of this special Under the Dome series, we explore the rules of redistricting – the drawing of new electoral maps. Those rules often conflict, and that friction is a prime reason why North Carolina sits center stage during battles over gerrymandering.
Monster, Part 2: What gerrymandering isn't
In the second episode of this special Under the Dome series, we examine why defining gerrymandering is harder than it appears. Bizarre shapes don’t always translate to political shenanigans. And some of our own choices – about who we are and where we live – complicate the picture.
Monster, Part 3: Math on the front lines
In the third episode, we dive deep into the mathematics that could be the key to quantifying and fighting gerrymandering. Some of that math dates back to secret U.S. atomic bomb labs. And although complex, its inner workings are built on some familiar ideas.
Monster, Part 4: All eyes on Raleigh
In the fourth episode of this special Under the Dome series, we unravel the politics of mapmaking today, the potential for reform and how the choices state legislators make will impact the legal fight over district lines for years.