One city, two districts: How dividing a community’s vote affects its political voice

Driving south on Owen Drive in Fayetteville is a driving experience like any other in the city.

There are shops and restaurants on either side of the road. There are homes tucked away in the side street neighborhoods.

Nothing seemingly significant divides this community along Owen except for a few lanes of traffic.

But at the time of the elections next November, this road will serve as a border between the federal elected officials and the people who will vote for them.

The intersection of Owen and Village drives next to Cape Fear Valley Medical Center divides North Carolina’s 9th and 7th Congressional Districts.

Everything immediately west of Owen and north of the village at the intersection is in the 9th, while the 7th is to the east and south, cutting Fayetteville and Cumberland County roughly in half . The split is significant in several ways, including that it divides the communities that support Fort Bragg, the most populous military post in the United States.

This political barrier was not chosen locally. It was decided dozens of miles north of Raleigh after a months-long battle between the state legislature and the courts.

“People are choosing to draw a line through our community,” Fayetteville mayor said Mitch Colvin said. “It increases the confusion. It dilutes the representation.

The intersection of Hay Street and Ray Avenue in downtown Fayetteville on September 13. From left to right, the intersection divides North Carolina’s 9th and 7th congressional districts. Ben Sessoms / Carolina Public Press

Maps of congressional districts are typically redrawn once a decade, as redrawing occurs to account for new census data collected every 10 years.

In North Carolina, however, districts were redrawn three times between 2010 and 2019, due to court cases that deemed previous drawings cases of gerrymandering, a political practice committed by both Democrats and Republicans. that shapes maps in a way that favors a policy. left on another. It has a long history in North Carolina, including in 1881 with the formation of Vance County in the northwest.

Two of the 2010s maps split Fayetteville. These drawings, including the 2022 election map, divide the city along Hay Street, a major downtown commercial corridor.

Statewide, the new cards are expected to be split more evenly between the two parties with seven polls against Republicans, six against Democrats and one draw.

“People choose to draw a line through our community. This increases the confusion. It dilutes the representation.

Mitch Colvin, Mayor of Fayetteville

But locally, in Cumberland County, it’s a different story.

According to the latest Cumberland County voter registration data, registered Democrats in the county outnumber Republicans by nearly 39,000.

Even so, the 7th and 9th districts are expected to turn red, according to polling data analyzed by FiveThirtyEight.

“The dilution of our voice and our voting power”, city councilor Mario Benavente said. “There really is no other word for it than gerrymandering.”

Communities of interest

jim morriscommander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Station 10630 in Hope Mills, went to vote in the North Carolina primary election in May.

To his surprise and disappointment, he did not recognize the candidates on his ballot.

“None of the people I thought I was voting for were on the ballot,” Morris said. “I was wondering if I had gotten the correct ballot.”

Morris was used to voting in the 8th congressional district, as he did in 2020 when Cumberland County was in one district.

Now Morris lives along the district line, just inside the 7th congressional district. The candidates he expected in the 8th are now running in the 9th on the west side of Cumberland County.

“They divided the area in two. I don’t understand why they had to do it this way,” he said. “A city should be in a district. A city shouldn’t have to (say) “Hey, I live on this side of the street.” I am on this side.’

The confusion for Morris was the political process that unfolded in the months leading up to the primary.

Due to new demographics from the 2020 U.S. Census, the Republican-controlled state legislature redrew the maps of Congress in late 2021.

These cards strongly favored Republicans, so anti-gerrymandering groups took legal action. After appeals, the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled 4-3 in February that the districts were too partisan and ordered a re-draw.

After the state legislature submitted another map, the Wake County Superior Court was not satisfied and implemented its own interim map in March, just about two months before the state’s primary.

All parties to the case appealed, but the state Supreme Court did not grant a hearing.

A map of the Fayetteville Congress that was signed into law in 2011. It was used for US House races from 2012 to 2014.
A map of the Fayetteville Congress that was signed into law in 2016. It was used for US House races from 2016 to 2018.
A provisional Fayetteville Congressional map that was enacted by the Superior Court of Wake in 2022. It will be used for US House races in November.

Republican NC House Rep. John Szokawho represents the area surrounding Hope Mills in South Cumberland, has long advocated for the Sandhills area of ​​southeastern North Carolina to have its own district around the military installation of Fort Bragg and surrounding areas .

He was one of only two Republicans in the NC General Assembly to vote against the second drawing of the maps by the Legislature. He was against the map cutting off parts of Fort Bragg in northwest Cumberland.

He also doesn’t like dividing Fayetteville.

“The community of interest around Fort Bragg … the active forces who work there, the civilian employees who work there, the retirees who are connected there and all the companies who have business relationships,” Szoka said.

Besides Charlotte and the Research Triangle surrounding Raleigh and Durham, he said he views Fort Bragg as the state’s largest community of interest.

“Everything should be together,” Szoka said.

Asher Hildebrandresearcher at Duke University who studies various aspects of American democracy, said that – strictly from the perspective of partisan proportionality – Congress’s statewide map for the upcoming election is probably the fairest of the history of the state.

That fairness sometimes requires dividing cities, he said.

Carolina Public Press is a partner in a national journalism collaboration honoring Democracy Day 2022, Thursday, September 15.

“There are times when dividing a community can serve other interests with which many voters agree, for example, the interest of having an overall map that accurately reflects the partisan distribution of the electorate,” Hildebrand said.

Some heavily populated urban areas, such as the Triangle and Charlotte, require separation due to the large number of people in the community. Congressional districts are expected to have about 750,000 people.

But for Fayetteville, with a population of about 210,000, the congressional division is unnecessary.

Hildebrand said the city’s political and municipal boundaries could have aligned while maintaining a similar level of partisan fairness across the state.

“There is a long-standing, small-d democratic principle that wherever possible, municipal boundaries, existing political boundaries should be respected,” he said. “The idea is that people who live in a community like Fayetteville and who have issues or interests aligned on a range of issues should have the opportunity to vote together in a legislative district.”

The mayor of Fayetteville said the divided community makes it more difficult to achieve common policy goals at the federal level.

“As far as the city is concerned, it’s easier for me to advocate and express our needs to federal officials if there is one,” Colvin said.

Benavente said the division makes it harder for voters to voice their concerns to representatives.

“So lawmakers may be less responsive to (their) community, which kind of returns the obligation to the voter to say, ‘I need to be that much more engaged. I need to be much more organized. I have to be all the stronger with my voice because the rules have been made to make it difficult for me to be heard,” Benavente said.

Future of NC Congress Cards

Over the summer, the U.S. Supreme Court decided to hear a case, scheduled for next summer’s court session, that could allow state legislatures more power in the process. of redistricting.

The case ties directly to North Carolina as the state’s two top Republican lawmakers, Tim Moore and Philippe Bergerasked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case following legal battles with the state Supreme Court.

In this case, Moore and Berger defend a legal theory known as the doctrine of independent state legislature.

Legal theory is a narrow interpretation of constitutional law that gives the state legislature exclusive authority to write federal election law, without involvement of other branches such as state courts.

“It will only inflame partisan gerrymandering,” said Michael Bitzerprofessor of politics and history at Catawba College.

“If a party gains power and wants to retain that power for a decade or more, it can use district reshuffling to solidify and cement that control. … You’re going to get the kind of environment that we see before us, if not made worse.

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