Landslide Races Put Focus On Redistricting
With the election in the rearview mirror, one thing we know is that Republicans won most of the races in North Carolina for both state and federal seats. It’s not a surprise that redistricting shaped the outcome. But the margins of victory for both Democrat and Republican winners is so wide critics from both sides are making new attacks on gerrymandering.
In the state House, of those races that had more than one candidate, the average margin of victory was 25 percent. It was slightly better in the state Senate, where the average margin of victory was about 23 percent.
That’s up only about one percent from 2010’s result – the last midterm with districts drawn under control of Democrats. But the number of races without a challenger rose from 12 to 20 during that span.
In all, of 170 legislative seats, only 32 had campaigns decided by below-landslide margins.
Those wide margins have even some Republicans wondering if the lines are fair.
The conservative-leaning John Locke Foundation has spoken out against skewed maps for more than 20 years now. Mitch Kokai with the Locke Foundation says they started when Democrats were still drawing the lines and they’re continuing that fight even when the power has shifted.
"The way the process works now the elected officials get to choose their voters, which is completely the opposite of what we should have," he says. "We should have voters choosing their elected officials."
Kokai says he’d like to see the maps drawn by professional staff and not by the elected officials who stand to benefit from how those lines are drawn. He says an abundance of uncontested and one-sided districts hurts the democratic process, forcing parties to decide on just a few races close enough that they’re worth fighting for.
"I’ve never liked gerrymandered districts but the fact of the matter is when the other side was in control for the last thirty years they seemed to have no problem," says Gov. Pat McCrory.
Pat McCrory is elected by a statewide vote, so districts don’t matter in his race. But, still, he acknowledged during an appearance in Kernersville last week that gerrymandering is a problem.
"I’d love to have a perfect pure system that you don’t have gerrymandered districts, but I haven’t found a way to implement that," he says.
The dilemma, he says, is that if you turn the process over to a panel, those members are still chosen by politicians, and they’ll make maps that benefit them.
But ignoring the problem comes with some risk, according to Jane Pinksy with the the group End Gerrymandering Now.
"We need to recognize that North Carolina is a state that’s growing and changing and that neither party is going to have any certainty of always being the party in power," she says.
Consider a race that didn’t involve gerrymandering. The state’s most closely watched race was for U.S. Senate. Thom Tillis’ margin of victory over Democrat Kay Hagan was less than 2 percent.
Editor's Note: This is the first of a two-part series on the effects of redistricting on the 2014 Election. Part two is an interview with State Sen. Bob Rucho, an architect of the current districts.