2021 County Redistricting Basics
Here is a list of counties that are likely* to draw new district boundaries (redistrict) in 2021:
*Additional counties may be redrawn if the local board of commissioners (or the legislature!) decides to do so, or if a court orders the county to redraw.
The formal map-drawing can begin only after the 2020 Census data are received (now tentatively expected in mid-to-late summer, rather than this spring). New maps must be approved by the Board of Commissioners in time for candidates running for the commission to file for office for the 2022 election (normally in mid-December, but 2021 may not be normal….).
Three steps that you can take to be sure that your voice and the voice of your community are heard during the redistricting:
To achieve Fair Districting in your county, there are three basic steps, and you can get started right now:
- Get the conversation going in your community
- Ask your Commissioners for a Fair Redistricting Process
- Continue organizing and track progress
Here are the details for each step:
- Get the conversation going in your community
- Form a local redistricting team. Get together with local activists and community groups to be sure they know that your county is going to be drawing new commission maps. Form a local redistricting team to engage local residents in the process. You don’t need a large group— 3 or 4 people is fine.
- Recruit organizational partners and volunteers as you go. (The FCNC one-pager information sheet sample lists examples of organizations to recruit.)
- Ask for Fair Counties Resolution endorsements. Ask individuals and organizations to endorse the Fair Counties Resolution, committing the Commission to a fair, open, and participatory redistricting process. Use the information sheet to explain why an open process is needed.
- Ask your Commissioners for a Fair Redistricting Process
- Engage your county commissioners. Let your commissioners know you care about county redistricting and that citizens need to be involved. Just send them an email or, better yet, grab a friend and attend a county commission meeting. Tell them that people in your county want a transparent, open redistricting process. Before the meeting or during the comment period, ask them how they plan to carry out the redistricting and how citizens can be involved. Urge them to put a discussion of the redistricting process on their next meeting agenda.
- Recruit a commissioner to introduce the Resolution. FCNC has provided a sample Resolution and a recommended set of steps for the commission to follow in order to implement the Resolution.
- Push for Resolution adoption by the Commission. Be persistent! Let them know about organizations that have endorsed the Resolution, and any PR campaigns you’ve initiated, including letters to the editors of local newspapers, and online social networking initiatives.
- Continue organizing and track progress. Help your neighbors to learn more about the redistricting, why it matters, and why they should get involved in the 2021 County Redistricting (FairCountiesNC can help!) — and provide updates on progress/status throughout the 2021 redistricting process.
- Organize a local meeting with a presentation and discussion, where people can learn more about why redistricting is important, what community issues are affected by commission decisions, and how people can push for fair districts. FairCountiesNC can provide a speaker, materials for the meeting, and help in promoting the event.
- Track redistricting by the Commission. With your community team, keep track of what’s happening with the commission redistricting and keep the community informed regarding obstacles and progress. (See the next section that describes what a Fair and Open redistricting process looks like.)
- Keep pressing for public engagement! Continue to encourage your friends, neighbors and partner organizations to get involved.
What Does a Fair and Open Process Look Like?
County residents can influence whether the districts are redrawn out in the open or behind closed doors. In an open process, residents have ample opportunities to express their opinions on the districts, information on what the next steps are and how they can participate, and access to the draft maps as soon as they are drawn.
Ask for an open, transparent process that includes:
- A public announcement from the county commission well in advance of starting the process setting out the schedule and procedures for drawing and approving the county commission districts, including the criteria to be used in drawing the maps, who will prepare draft maps, the schedule for completing the redrawing, and how citizens’ voices will be heard. The process should specify that the state’s open meeting rules apply to any discussion of the maps, including any meeting where the procedure for redistricting is discussed, any meeting where the maps will be discussed or introduced (whether or not it is a formal commission meeting), and any session where commissioners will vote on the maps.
- Public availability of information on the redrawing, including access to census data online and map-drawing software (now available in free, easy-to-use online tools, such as Representable). Information provided to the public should be in computer-readable form (e.g., shapefiles and spreadsheets, not just images).
- At least one public hearing offering an opportunity to comment on the draft maps well in advance of their consideration by the commission. Better: at least two hearings, one held before maps are drawn to gather public input and one held after maps are drawn for residents to comment on the draft maps. Larger or more rapidly growing counties and those where commission districts have been controversial may need more hearings to ensure that every resident who wants to be heard can participate. An additional hearing should be held if the draft maps are significantly revised after the first hearing/comment period. All hearings should be well-promoted in advance with draft maps published online and in the major local newspaper.
- Release of draft maps drawn by or for the commission and commission staff well in advance of scheduled public hearings and votes on new maps. In addition to the maps, the commission should provide a clear explanation of the changes proposed, why these specific changes were chosen over other possible district designs, how the criteria were applied, what other options were considered, and information on who drew the maps (or provided input). (Note: conversations between staff and commissioners and documents such as draft maps drawn by commission staff or members are confidential–but you can still ask for them to be shared!)
- An opportunity for county residents to submit their own proposed district maps or other information that they believe should be taken into account in drawing the maps (such as identifying their communities and asking that they be kept together rather than split across two or more districts). Maps and other information submitted by county residents or outside experts should also be made available to the public.
- A website providing ready access to information on the redrawing, including scheduled events, commission maps, any other draft maps received from any external source, meeting minutes, as well as public comments.
- Handling of public comments. In addition to public hearings before and after drawing maps, the commission should take public comments on maps drawn in writing and online, make such comments available online, and respond to specific comments asking for revisions of the maps. Responses to public comments should be made before the commission votes on the maps.
What can be changed in 2021 and what can’t:
- The boundaries of the current commission districts CAN be changed to reflect population changes and other local concerns and MUST be changed if population shifts since 2010 have resulted in substantial differences in population between districts (a specific formula is used to decide this).
- The basic structure of the commission is very difficult to change at this point:
- The number and type of districts will stay the same as it is now for the 2021 redrawing. (Please see
- This includes how many members the commission has; whether the commissioners are voted on district-by-district, at-large, or using a combination of the two methods; how many districts there are of each type; how many members are selected using each method; and which residents can vote on the candidates for each position (see Commission Structure).
So, it’s all about the district lines! But the lines are very important! They influence which candidates win or lose, which party has a majority on the commission, and which groups are more likely to be represented on the board.
Why You Should Care: What Your County Commission Does
Your county commission makes many decisions that affect you, your family, and your community.
The chart below shows the main services and government functions overseen by the county commission
County commissions manage an increasingly broad and complex set of functions. They set the tax rates and determine the budgets for key local services, from schools to public health to the county sheriff’s office. They play a major role in local development, from determining which proposed projects will get approval to working to address local challenges such as insufficient low-cost housing, drug abuse, and the response to Covid-19.
Funding for local schools is the largest item in most counties’ budget, covering the running cost of the public school system. County commissions also work to promote local economic development, tourism, and job creation, as well as dealing with the wide range of challenges that may confront their county, from weather-related disasters to environmental issues.
The following table shows the functions that county commissions must perform and those that they may perform, if they choose to do so and can find the time and resources to take them on!
What Do North Carolina County Governments Do?
|Building Code Enforcement||x|
|Land Use Regulation||x|
|Parks and Recreation||x|
|Solid Waste Collection||x|
|Solid Waste Disposal||x|
County commissioners’ decision should address your community’s needs: funding your schools, providing public health services and many other local services; changing regulations when needed; approving projects that will help your community grow and create jobs, and setting tax rates to pay for community needs.