RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Republicans in the North Carolina Senate advanced a map proposal Monday for the state’s congressional districts starting in 2024 that could position the party to pick up at least three seats in the U.S. House next year.
The potential gains would be a boon to congressional Republicans seeking to preserve and expand their majority in the narrowly divided chamber.
The Senate Redistricting and Elections Committee approved a plan for North Carolina’s 14 U.S. House seats, creating 10 districts that appear to favor a Republican, three that favor a Democrat and one that could be considered competitive, according to statewide election data included with the proposal. Both parties currently hold seven seats each in the state’s congressional delegation after a panel of trial judges fashioned temporary boundaries for the 2022 election.
The Senate is expected to vote Tuesday on the proposed congressional map, and it could receive final approval in the similarly GOP-led House as early as Wednesday. Redistricting legislation cannot be vetoed by the Democratic governor.
Democrats whose seats are threatened by the plan include first-term Reps. Jeff Jackson of Charlotte and Wiley Nickel of Cary, and second-term Rep. Kathy Manning of Greensboro. State Republicans have placed the three Democrats in districts that Jackson said are “totally unwinnable.” Democratic Rep. Don Davis of Greenville appears to be in the state’s only toss-up district.
Manning called the Republican proposal “an extreme partisan gerrymander” that she said undermines voters in a true swing state with a record of tight elections for statewide office.
“These maps were created for one purpose only: to ensure Republicans win more House seats so that they can maintain control of the U.S. House of Representatives,” she said. “They are not a reflection of the best interests of North Carolinians but rather an offering to the national Republican Party.”
Republicans don’t deny that the proposed maps for Congress and the state House and Senate give them a clear partisan advantage in future elections. But they say it’s permissible after the state Supreme Court — which flipped last year from a Democratic majority to Republican — ruled in April that the state constitution does not limit partisan gerrymandering.
Sen. Ralph Hise, a Mitchell County Republican and one of the congressional map’s chief architects, said he’s confident it meets all legal criteria and will stand up in court, even if there are legal challenges.
“I feel like we’ve laid out our criteria and we met them, and we think this map best represents North Carolina,” he told reporters Monday.
Redistricting committees in both chambers also approved proposals Monday for new state House and Senate boundaries that Duke University mathematician Jonathan Mattingly, who studies redistricting, said would help Republicans maintain or expand their majorities.
According to an analysis of the proposed Senate map by Mattingly’s nonpartisan research group on gerrymandering, Republicans can “reasonably expect” to obtain a supermajority in the chamber, even when votes for Democrats make up more than half of ballots cast statewide.
Democrats would have a better chance of breaking up the GOP supermajority in the state House, he said, but that chamber’s proposed map still strongly favors Republicans.
“Our overarching goal in the creation of this House plan was to create Republican-leaning districts where possible … following traditional redistricting principles,” Rep. Destin Hall, a top Republican redistricting official, said in committee.
Both the House and Senate plan to hold first-chamber votes on their respective state legislative proposals on Tuesday.
Several outspoken Senate Democrats have been placed in the same districts as other incumbents under the chamber’s proposal. Democratic Sens. Lisa Grafstein of Wake County and Natasha Marcus of Mecklenburg County say they may consider relocating to another district if the map becomes final.
Although Hise said those lawmakers were not targeted, Grafstein said she thinks her advocacy for transgender residents might have led Republicans to draw her an unfavorable district.
“I’ve tried to be outspoken and not care about the consequences,” Grafstein, the state’s only out LGBTQ+ senator, said Monday. “Whatever the intent, it sends a signal certainly that folks like Senator Marcus and myself who are outspoken are being treated differently.”