Gerrymandering continues to disenfranchise
2016 election results show that partisan redistricting undermines the principle of one person, one vote in North Carolina
RALEIGH – The partisan redistricting process (gerrymandering) has a long, negative history and has been practiced by Democrats and Republicans alike. It is one of the biggest threats to our democracy because it robs citizens of their constitutional right of one person, one vote.
As the outcome of the 2016 election shows, gerrymandering results in disproportional representation.
In analyzing NC House and NC Senate races, districts were separated based on their being contested (two or more candidates) or uncontested (no opposition candidate). All of North Carolina's US House districts were contested.
The contested districts were divided into two categories: noncompetitive and competitive, where districts were deemed competitive if won by less than 10 percent of the vote.
In the NC House (Table 1), 60 of the 120 districts were contested, but only 12 of those were competitive. The remaining 60 districts were uncontested. Thus, only 10 percent of voters really had a choice in selecting a candidate.
In the contested districts, Republicans received 56 percent of the votes, but won 75 percent of the districts. Combining the contested and uncontested districts resulted in the Republicans winning 62 percent of the districts.
In the NC Senate (Table 2), 32 of the 50 districts were contested, but only four of those were competitive. The other 18 districts were uncontested. Thus, only 8 percent of voters really had a choice in selecting a candidate.
In the contested districts, Republicans received 51 percent of the votes, but won 72 percent of the districts. Combining the contested and uncontested districts resulted in the Republicans winning 70 percent of the districts.
All of North Carolina's US House districts were contested in 2016, but none were competitive, so no voter really had a choice in selecting a representative. Winning margins in North Carolina’s 2016 congressional races ranged from 12 percent to 41 percent. Republicans received 53 percent of the votes and won 77 percent of the districts.
In each of the three chambers above, data from the contested districts showed a slight Republican majority, 51-56 percent. However, the uncontested districts prevent a good measure of the statewide vote, because in those districts one party gets no votes.
An estimate of statewide choice was developed by calculating the average vote received in the races for president, US Senate, governor, lieutenant governor and Council of State offices (Table 4). This estimate shows a 48 percent Democratic versus a 51 percent Republican voter preference.
An estimate of statewide voter preference shows a slight Republican preference (51 percent). But due to gerrymandering of the General Assembly and congressional districts, the Republicans won 62 percent of the NC House districts, 70 percent of the NC Senate districts and 77 percent of the US House districts.
Gerrymandering produces uncontested districts where voters get no choice. But even in contested districts, voters had little choice because so few of these districts were competitive: just 10 percent in the NC House, 8 percent in the NC Senate, and none in the US House.
Therefore, North Carolina continues to be a state in which partisan legislators choose their voters, rather than voters choosing their legislators.
Larry D. King is a retired professor of Soil Science at NC State University and a board member with Common Cause North Carolina.