“Elections matter” although perhaps a little condescending is the best way to answer the questions you get when trying to explain the consequences of the newly redrawn state House and Senate districts and the process by which they were created.
Once the final tally came in on the evening of the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November 2010 this was inevitable. Elections matter and in this case they mattered greatly. As one political consultant put it to me recently, losing big ahead of a redistricting year is “like a hurricane coming ashore at high tide on a full moon.”
In any contest one side being able to set the rules of the game is an overwhelming advantage. Being able to change them midstream is even more advantageous. That’s the case here in North Carolina where the GOP led redistricting will reset the dynamics of the state’s legislative contests. At the same time there’s been a robust effort on the part of the party in power to rewrite as much of the state’s election code as they can get away with. Many of these bills are complex but their goal to reduce both the turnout and impact of votes from traditionally Democratic areas and constituencies is not. At this point, with the cards now on the table, no one could look at what is being done and declare it neutral.
That the attempt to override Gov. Bev Perdue’s veto of the Voter ID bill, the crudest of the vote suppression tools, is coming during a session dedicated to redistricting further underlines that this is a coordinate, partisan effort to consolidate and hold on to power.
The House and Senate maps released yesterday, just days ahead of the session, were full of tricks and traps for specific members of the opposition as well as a highly transparent overall effort to mitigate Democratic voter turnout.
Data from the maps show Democratic voters more tightly packed in their districts than Republicans. Totals of how each district leaned in past races is far out of line with the actual statewide results. The carving up of minority areas, the double-bunking of sitting Democratic legislators into one district and drawing specific legislators out of their districts are tried and true techniques to rig the outcome.
The courts will have their say on this and as they’ve done in the past when Democrats have similarly overreached require some reworking of the specifics, particularly in how the cities with large minority populations are sliced and diced.
Even after the courts get a hold of them and ask for a redrafting here and there the strategy and its consequences in 2012 and years later will be felt and the end result will be the same: for the next decade the state legislature will be more conservative than the state itself.
Statewide races for both state and national office won’t be greatly affected by the legislative maps (they will be affected by the some of the vote suppression efforts) so we’re likely to continue to see the state skew more for Democrats in those races, while the new districts help GOP candidates in races for U.S. Congress and the state House and Senate.
A big turnout in next year’s election could upset these dynamics, but in the non-presidential years the maps will favor the GOP. In 2016 and 2020, whether North Carolina is in play in the presidential contest and the general enthusiasm of the electorate will have a big effect on the makeup of the General Assembly. But in 2014 and 2018 the maps will set the stage for the GOP to win back what might have been lost in prior elections.