As a result of a 2013 lawsuit from voters in Mecklenburg and Durham counties, hundreds of Buncombe County residents are likely to be shifting between the 10th and 11th Congressional Districts.
Last Friday, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts denied a request from state attorneys to stay the decision of a lower federal judicial panel requiring the lines defining North Carolina’s 1st and 12th Congressional Districts be redrawn. Consequently, at least for the coming election, the ruling stands that the lines, which have been in place since 2011, were unconstitutional because race played too strong a role in how they were plotted. Gerrymandering a district to make it more winnable for a certain party is legal and has long been a political tool for both parties. But based on a separate 2015 Supreme Court decision regarding Alabama districts, using racial demographics to choose those boundaries is invalid because it gives less weight to black voters.
The ruling only directly targets two districts, one in the far northeast of the state and the other, which has, until now, snaked along Interstate 85 from Charlotte to Greensboro and Winston Salem. But the nature of redistricting is such that, if one district changes, so must all the others in order to evenly divide the state. The new hastily drawn plan, which has now been approved by the state House and Senate, will shift thousands of black voters out of the 1st and 12th districts. The last remaining hurtle for the plan is for the federal panel of judges to approve the new lines. According to a spokesperson for the state Board of Elections, the plaintiffs in the case that overturned the old lines have requested argumentation on the newly proposed lines for districts 1 and 12.
Most of the changes are in the Piedmont and the east and have little bearing on North Carolina’s western counties, but some Buncombe voters will probably see a different primary ballot than they would have. The March 15 election will proceed as expected. However, in June, a special primary election will be held for U.S. representatives since it is too late for the March 15 ballots to reflect the redrawn districts. After all, some voters have already submitted absentee ballots, and early voting begins statewide on March 3.
While the statistical makeup of districts 10 and 11, which divide Buncombe County, will not change significantly under the plan, some Buncombe residents who have been represented by 11th District Republican Mark Meadows will now be represented by 10th District Republican Patrick McHenry and vice-versa. A big swathe of West Asheville and Woodfin will probably change districts from the 10th back to the 11th, reverting to its 2010 status and for as long as most can remember before that. Likewise, Biltmore Forest would join Meadows’ 11th District. Arden, east of Hendersonville Road, changes the other way, to be in McHenry’s 10th District. The changes do make for a tidier looking boundary, boxing off the southeastern quadrant of the county, including most of Asheville, into the 10th District.
But only time and elections will tell if the changing lines will the districts more competitive for both parties. The historically contentious 11th District has gone solidly Republican since the left-leaning Asheville was moved into the decidedly Republican 10th in the last redistricting plan.