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Redistricting and Gerrymandering

Redistricting:  What it is and why it matters

Every 10 years after we get new Census data, governments all over the country redraw their electoral districts to reflect changes in population. In North Carolina, this includes our Congressional, legislative, county commission, school board, and municipal districts.

This redrawing should be a straightforward, technical process. Instead, it has become an opportunity for the politicians in charge to rig the maps in their favor. Their aim is simple:  make it easier for themselves to get re-elected and much harder for voters to toss them out.

What’s gerrymandering and how does it work?

When politicians rig district maps to benefit themselves, we call that “gerrymandering.” Whether we’re talking about the legislature, the county commission, or the school board, they all draw their own maps. That means the party holding the majority controls the map-drawing and they can cement themselves in control, undermining democracy. Both parties have gerrymandered in NC when they have had the chance! Plus, just about any gerrymander creates safe seats for both parties, so politicians in the minority can benefit, too.

Here’s how it works. Let’s start with a community of 100 people, equally split between two parties, the Pennies and the Dimes. (And let’s assume they’re all voters.) Our community has 10 districts, so each district has to have 10 people.

Let’s rig the map for the Dimes! The map drawers first ”pack” most of the Pennies into two districts (with the dark blue lines) and then “crack” the rest of them, spreading them out so the Dimes outnumber them in all the other districts (shown in light blue). The Dimes win 8 seats, the Pennies just 2, even though they each have half the voters.

Learn more about gerrymandering by watching Line in the Street, the movie this great explanation comes from (used by permission–thanks, Bob Millman!). Find it on Vimeo.

We can rig the town for the Pennies, too, without moving a single person! We use the same “pack and crack” strategy. First, we pack a bunch of Dimes into two districts (shown in red), then we crack the rest across the other eight districts (shown in blue). We get the same 8-2 margin, but this time it’s the Pennies who win the prize!

We could also draw nice, compact districts that represent our community’s even split between Pennies and Dimes, once again without moving anyone. This map has 4 districts that would probably go Penny and 4 that would probably go Dime, but by small margins. Both parties would have to appeal to the voters to earn their wins! Two districts are toss-ups and could go either way. Competitive districts encourage politicians to listen more to their voters and respond to what the voters want!

FairCountiesNC and its sister organization, FairDistrictsNC, are working to end gerrymandering in our state. The 2021 redistricting is coming up in a few months! We’re doing everything we can to ensure our fellow North Carolinians have fairer maps for the coming decade, maps that enable the voters to hold their elected officials accountable. (Isn’t that what representative democracy is all about??) We’ll keep working hard to improve the system, but we’re also working with communities like yours across North Carolina to make sure voters can make their voices heard in this year’s redistricting, with or without reform.

Gerrymandering and County Commission Structures

In North Carolina there are different county commission structures. The basic structures are: single-member districts, multi-member districts, at-large, and districts-at-large (“residency districts”). Read here for more about gerrymandering and county commission structure.