Statewide Database

Redistricting can have major representation impact

The Herald-Sun

October 17, 2009

The state legislators elected in 2010 will have the job of drawing new congressional and legislative district lines in mid-2011. In addition to the economic recession that weighed so heavily on state budgeting in the recent legislative session, this political reality creates the context of both Democratic and Republican strategy and decision-making in the General Assembly and in their preparations for next year's campaigns.

Another reality will also shape redistricting : the growth and shifting of our state's population. Through this decade, the metropolitanization of North Carolina intensified. As a result, the prospect is for Wake and Mecklenburg counties, as well as for neighboring counties in their regions, to gain additional seats in the state House and Senate.

With the assistance of Gerry Cohen, director of the Legislative Drafting Division, we have sought to present a preview assessment of how population change will influence redistricting .

In 2011, of course, the General Assembly will use the population data gathered in next year's decennial Census. The data we present here come from the Census Bureau's projections; they provide a way to begin assembling analysis and discussion.

In the process of redistricting , legislators will inevitably consider the interests of incumbents and of their political parties. But they also must adhere to the rules embedded in laws and court cases. The U.S. Supreme Court has required, under the one-person, one-vote ruling, that each legislator represent about the same number of constituents. The Voting Rights Act, along with subsequent court rulings, several involving North Carolina cases, spells out requirements for assuring that minority citizens can elect representatives of their choosing. And a more recent state Supreme Court ruling says legislators must contain whole districts within county boundaries, unless they have to cross county lines to meet other legal requirements.

Overall, the state's population in 2010 is projected to be nearly 9.6 million persons, a growth of 19 percent over the 8 million persons counted in 2000. After the 2000 Census, the state's 50 Senate districts had an "ideal' population of about 161,000, and the 120 House districts were drawn to have about 67,000 persons each. In 2010, Senate districts will grow to encompass a population of more than 191,000 and House districts of nearly 80,000.

Most counties will show population growth over the 10-year period. Counties whose population rose by more than 19 percent will gain representation -- either a whole seat or a larger fraction of a seat. Counties that lost population or even gained less than the statewide average will lose representation. Consider these findings:

Wake County has grown by nearly 50 percent. Thus it will qualify for 11.73 House seats and 4.89 Senate seats. Wake is likely to gain two House seats and one Senate seat. Neighboring Durham (23 percent growth) and Johnston (43 percent) are also positioned to gain representation, either full seats or greater voting influence in districts.

Mecklenburg County has grown 31 percent, while nearby Union has grown 70 percent and Cabarrus 40 percent. Mecklenburg qualifies for at least one and perhaps two House seats, while Union and Cabarrus also are positioned to gain legislative strength. Indeed, as this metro area illustrates, some legislative battles may arise within metro areas over how to assign voters between core counties and their suburbs.

The counties in the Triad have gained in population, but all at a lower rate than the state as a whole. Therefore, Guilford, Forsyth and their neighboring counties will face the prospect of attempting to hold their own current legislative representation.

The metro area centered on Wilmington also appears positioned to gain representation: Brunswick has grown by 50 percent, Pender 34 percent and New Hanover 23 percent. While Cumberland County appears to have lost ground in its legislative share, nearby Harnett and Hoke counties have both gained.

Ferrel Guillory is director of the Program on Public Life at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Lewis McCorkle is an undergraduate student at UNC and was a summer intern in the Program on Public Life. This article originally appeared in the program's publication, N.C. DataNet, and is reprinted with permission.

The complete DataNet can be found at the program's Web site, It includes include a chart that provides a look at population for each county (from the 2000 Census count to the 2010 projection), and a statistical rendering of the extent to which each county is likely to see its share of the total legislative representation increase or decrease.

Section: Editorial
Page: A7
Record Number: 0573078183
Copyright, 2009, The Durham Herald Company