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How the GOP Is Resegregating the South

Republicans—to protect and expand their gains from 2010— are diluting the minority vote in swing districts held by white Democrats.

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The consequences of redistricting in North Carolina—one of the most important swing states in the country—could determine who controls Congress and the presidency in 2012. Democrats hold seven of the state’s thirteen Congressional seats, but after redistricting they could control only three—the largest shift for Republicans at the Congressional level in any state this year. Though Obama won eight of the thirteen districts, under the new maps his vote would be contained in only three heavily Democratic districts—all of which would have voted 68 percent or higher for the president in 2008—while the rest of the districts would have favored John McCain by 55 percent or more. “GOP candidates could win just over half of the statewide vote for Congress and end up with 62 percent to 77 percent of the seats,” found John Hood, president of the conservative John Locke Foundation.

The same holds true at the state level, where only 10 percent of state legislative races can be considered a tossup. “If these maps hold, Republicans have a solid majority plus a cushion in the North Carolina House and Senate,” says J. Michael Bitzer, a professor of political science at Catawba College. “They don’t even need to win the swing districts.” North Carolina is now a political paradox: a presidential swing state with few swing districts. Republicans have turned what Bitzer calls an “aberration”—the Tea Party wave of 2010—“into the norm.”

Republicans accomplished this remarkable feat by drawing half the state’s black population of 2.2 million people, who vote overwhelmingly for Democrats, into a fifth of all legislative and Congressional districts. As a result, black voters are twice as likely as white voters to see their communities divided. “The new North Carolina legislative lines take the cake for the most grotesquely drawn districts I’ve ever seen,” says Jeff Wice, a Democratic redistricting lawyer in Washington.

According to data compiled by Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy North Carolina, precincts that are 90 percent white have a 3 percent chance of being split, and precincts that are 80 percent black have a 12 percent chance of being split, but precincts with a BVAP between 15 and 45 percent have a 40 percent chance of being split. Republicans “systematically moved [street] blocks in or out of their precincts on the basis of their race,” found Ted Arrington, a redistricting expert at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. “No other explanation is possible given the statistical data.” Such trends reflect not just a standard partisan gerrymander but an attack on the very idea of integration. In one example, Senate redistricting chair Bob Rucho admitted that Democratic State Senator Linda Garrou was drawn out of her plurality African-American district in Winston-Salem and into an overwhelmingly white Republican district simply because she is white. “The districts here take us back to a day of segregation that most of us thought we’d moved away from,” says State Senator Dan Blue Jr., who in the 1990s was the first African-American Speaker of the North Carolina House.

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Nationwide, Republicans have a major advantage in redistricting heading into the November elections. The party controls the process in twenty states, including key swing states like Florida, Ohio, Michigan, Virginia and Wisconsin, compared with seven for Democrats (the rest are home to either a split government or independent redistricting commissions). Republicans control more than four times as many seats at the Congressional level, including two-thirds of the seventy most competitive races of 2010.

This gives the GOP a major opportunity to build on its gains from 2010. Today GOP Representative Paul Ryan, nobody’s idea of a moderate, represents the median House district in America based on party preference, according to Dave Wasserman, House editor of the  Cook Political Report. That district will become two points more Republican after the current redistricting cycle. “The fact of a Republican wave election on the eve of redistricting means that Republican legislators are in far better shape to shore up that wave,” says Justin Levitt, a redistricting expert at Loyola Law School. Though public dissatisfaction with GOP members of Congress is at an all-time high, Republican dominance of the redistricting process could prove an insurmountable impediment to Democratic hopes of retaking the House, where the GOP now has a fifty-one-seat edge. Speaker of the House John Boehner predicts that the GOP’s redistricting advantage will allow the party to retain control of the House, perhaps for the next decade.

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