Redistricting Leader Says Maps Not Gerrymandered; Numbers Suggest Otherwise

Redistricting Leader Says Maps Not Gerrymandered; Numbers Suggest Otherwise

6:25am Nov 20, 2014
N.C. Sen. Bob Rucho (R-Mecklenburg)
N.C. General Assembly

The State Board of Election reports that 14 races across the state were so close that they’re currently undergoing recounts. For the most part, though, close races were the exception this year. 

Most legislative seats were either uncontested or won by landslide margins. Wednesday, WFDD reported that critics on both sides of the political spectrum are making renewed attacks on gerrymandering.

Today, we talked to one of the architects of the electoral maps, who says the maps are both legal and fair. State Sen. Bob Rucho says none of the candidates would have won without swaying unaffiliated voters.  

Rucho says that the high number of one-sided elections this year has more to do with candidates having the right message for undecided voters than it did with redistricting. 

"I'm saying these maps aren't gerrymandered," he says. "It was a matter of what the candidates actually was able to tell the voters and if the voters agreed with them. Why would you call that uncompetitive?"

Democrats had drawn the electoral boundaries for decades, but Republicans took over when they came into power following the 2010 mid-term. Rucho says they were following strict court-ordered guidelines when drawing the map to ensure equal representation. Redistricting data and maps can be found at the General Assembly's redistricting page.

He says the Democrats would have been forced to draw similar lines had they done the redistricting. Rucho says the lines the Republicans drew weren't very different from the previous maps. You can see the state senate map that the Democrats drew in 2003 here.

For comparison, the current GOP map is here

Rucho says the maps aren't gerrymandered - a term for districts that are drawn to give one side an advantage. But critics disagree. Bloggers for the Washington Post determined North Carolina's current map to be the one of the most gerrymandered in the country.

So how might the lines look different if they weren't based on political decisions? Two Duke University researchers decided to do the math to find out.

John Mattingly is a Duke University math professor. Christy Vaughn is a senior math major. They created district maps that followed the law by keeping the maps compact and evenly distributing the population. But they ignored race and party affiliation. They ran more than 100 tests, and the results were consistent.

"The most likely outcome was that seven or eight of the 13 seats were filled by Democrats," Mattingly said. That's a different result than the official outcome of the election, in which democrats only won four seats.

There are a few things to keep in mind. Vaughn and Mattingly were looking at U.S. Congressional races, not state legislative races that WFDD analyzed for this series. Also, they focused on the 2012 election, which had a higher voter turnout and a larger proportion of Democrat voters.

Mattingly says the results has important implications for how maps are drawn.

"If we really want our elections to reflect the will of the people, then I think we have to put in safeguards to protect our democracy so redistrictings don't end up so biased that they essentially fix the elections before they get started," he says.

Vaughn says the next step is to compare their maps to district maps from other states.

"Ideally we want to have districts that better represent the will of the people," she says.  "So I hope our work will show the need for non-partisan districting reform."

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