RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – A series of experts who testified Monday in a trial over the new electoral districts Republicans recently enacted concluded that the districts were drawn to disproportionately benefit the GOP as various Democratic and non-partisan groups have sought to have the districts deemed unconstitutional.
In November, Republicans in the General Assembly approved the new districts for the state’s 14 U.S. House seats and for the state House and Senate following the 2020 Census. Unless a court orders changes, the districts will remain in effect for this decade.
Jonathan Mattingly, a mathematician at Duke University who has studied gerrymandering and testified in previous cases over the issue, said he generated 100,000 simulated maps to compare the potential outcomes of in those cases to the maps the Republicans actually approved.
“I found that the gerrymander of the House and the Senate is particularly effective at preserving the supermajority or the majority,” he said. “I found the chance the maps were drawn by hazard without an intentional thumb on the scales astronomically small.”
Republicans have said they did not consult partisan data or racial demographic data of voters in creating the new districts.
“We have not made any consideration of racial information or others in making those decisions, and we’re clear that we would not,” said Sen. Ralph Hise (R-Mitchell), who is one of the legislators who oversaw the redistricting process. “They’re pouring all the money into these lawsuits to try and bake in results that elect more Democrats. I think they’re completely worried about the wave that is hitting right now.”
The trial comes as Republicans seek to maintain and expand their majorities in the General Assembly and attempt to win more seats in the U.S. House, potentially taking control of it from Democrats.
“The Congressional map locks in a 10-4 split and is resistant to significant shifts in the popular vote,” Mattingly concluded.
North Carolina gained an additional seat in the U.S. House due to population growth. Currently, there are eight Republicans representing the state in Congress and five Democrats.
The state Supreme Court last month abruptly halted candidate filing amid the legal challenges over the new districts and ordered this year’s primary election to be moved from March 8 to May 17.
The trial is scheduled to conclude on Thursday. The court has ordered the three-judge panel to issue a decision by Jan. 11. That decision is likely to be appealed quickly to the Supreme Court, which potentially could order the maps be redrawn in time to be used for this year’s election if they’re found to be unconstitutional.
In addition to Mattingly, the plaintiffs also called Dr. Jowei Chen to testify. He’s an expert on redistricting at the University of Michigan and generated 1,000 simulated maps and called the Congressional map Republicans approved a “statistical outlier.”
“I found that the enacted plan is a partisan outlier both at a statewide level as well as with respect to the individual districts,” Chen said. “I found that the Republican bias in the enacted plan cannot be explained by North Carolina’s political geography.”
In Chen’s simulated maps, about 3.4 percent of them produced a 10-4 Republican advantage in the Congressional seats. He said 62.1 percent of the maps have Republicans favored to win nine seats, which an attorney representing the Republican lawmakers highlighted. Chen countered that more of the districts in his simulations would be competitive than what Republicans approved.
“That is not by itself what makes the enacted plan an outlier. What makes the plan so clearly an outlier is when you look district by district,” he said.
When asked if he found that “partisanship predominated in the drawing” of the districts Republicans enacted, he said yes.
The judges also heard from Chris Cooper, a political science professor at Western Carolina University, who specializes in state politics.
He called attention to the choice Republicans made to split Wake, Mecklenburg and Guilford counties (the three largest counties and primarily Democratic counties) each into three different Congressional districts.
While Wake and Mecklenburg are too large to be contained in one district, Guilford currently is.
He said the map appears to “pack” Democratic voters into some districts and “crack” them in other districts, meaning they’re spread out among districts to dilute their voting power.
“This is about small movements, small decisions that taken together tend to tilt the scales one little bit at a time,” he said. “We received an extra member of Congress, earned an extra member of Congress if you will, yet the Democratic representation will actually decrease under the current map.”