From state Sen. Andy Wells, R-Catawba:
It’s easy to make fun of redistricting maps drawn by the N.C. legislature. It’s not a pretty picture.
While the just adopted new congressional district maps have fewer splits of counties (13) and precincts (12) than any maps in recent N.C. history they still leave you wondering why, for example, the 5th Congressional District, which already was 10 counties big, needed to reach into Catawba County to include two precincts and a portion of a third.
What difference did it make that it’s worth the confusion of splitting a precinct? And putting a handful of people in Catawba County in the 5th District?
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Was this just more political gerrymandering to move Republicans and Democrat votes around?
The fact is legislators had little or no choice – they were simply following orders laid down by the U.S. Supreme Court.
In 1964, in Wesberry v. Sanders, the Supreme Court said the Constitution requires states to select congressmen by elections in districts composed “as nearly as is practicable” of equal population.
Which the legislature’s redistricting attorneys translated into “one person, one vote” and it means exactly that. There is only a one-vote difference in the total population of each of the new 13 N.C. congressional districts.
Balancing districts perfectly with 733,000 people sounds hard but it’s even harder than you think. If you need 150 votes to balance, you can’t just grab the closest 150 residents across a county line. You have to balance using entire voting blocks (which are smaller geographic pieces that, together, make a precinct). So you may end up including a voting block of 250 people in one county and then subtracting a voting block of 100 people in another county to get the net increase of 150 people and make the districts balance. When you do that, you split two counties.
If this sounds a bit crazy, it is. It’s unlikely that the census, taken every 10 years by temporary workers, is anywhere close to that level of accuracy. Even if it were, one week later a family moves and the district is no longer equal.
In our state legislative districts, we allow a 5 percent margin in balancing districts. A margin a fraction of that size in the congressional districts could eliminate splitting precincts and a lot of counties.
But I’m not sure you have to understand mathematics to be a federal judge.