With all this hubbub over North Carolina’s congressional districts being thrown out and legislative districts perhaps about to be, one might wonder: Just how much do the maps matter? Would districts drawn without political considerations make any difference in outcomes?
For a hint, check out House District 104, which covers much of south Charlotte.
For the last three elections, 104 has been a reliably Republican district. Republican Andy Dulin won the seat in 2016 and Republicans Dan Bishop and Ruth Samuelson before that. None was ever in danger.
Now, though, legislative districts are being redrawn after a federal court found the districts to be unconstitutional racial gerrymanders. A “special master” has submitted a new map at the court’s request. The court is expected to announce any time now whether that map will be used or yet another one drawn by legislative Republicans.
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If the map from special master Nathaniel Persily is used, it could have a big impact on a handful of races, including Dulin’s in House 104. Dulin has already drawn one challenger – Democrat Brandon Lofton, a partner at Robinson Bradshaw. The numbers suggest Lofton might have a chance in a previously safe-Republican district.
The precincts in the old House 104 district were only 31 percent registered Democrat. They voted for Pat McCrory over Bev Perdue in 2008, 70-28. They voted for Richard Burr over Elaine Marshall in 2010, 62-36.
Compare that with the Persily version of 104 that could be used this fall. Precincts in that district voted for Democrat Roy Cooper over McCrory in 2016, 51-47. They narrowly gave Republican Buck Newton the edge over Josh Stein in that year’s attorney general’s race, 50.5 to 49.4.
Persily did not take political data into consideration when he drew the districts. But those districts could very well produce different outcomes than the old ones, in House 104 and elsewhere.