The new congressional map of North Carolina is a very effective GOP gerrymander, cracking cities and counties and drawing tendril districts whenever needed to best pack Democrats into just three seats and leave the remaining 11 GOP leaning. I'd say it's a work of art, if your tastes lean to the abstract. In fairness though, the previous Democratic map was hardly more visually pleasing either, and the worst-drawn districts (the 1st and 12th) had a similar style then as now. Designed to elect African-Americans, those two districts ignored all conventional political and geographic boundaries in their desire to grab as many heavily black precincts, just barely getting the 1st to an African-American majority (50.7% when drawn) and leaving the 12th with a narrow white plurality (47% to 45% black when drawn). I do not believe the VRA requires such abnormally drawn districts but truthfully the law is not completely settled with the Supreme Court revisiting and changing things from time to time, such as in the recent Bartlett v. Strickland decision. Clearly the 12th is not required then in any form, but must the 1st have such unusual boundaries to just make a bare majority? I don't know, but I would think a district that doesn't unfairly crack African-Americans between multiple seats and keeps the core majority-black precincts intact would be legal.
The premise of this diary then is what if North Carolina Democrats (having a bit of foresight before they lost their legislative majority right before redistricting) had pushed a Fair District Amendment, such as the ones that got over 60% of the vote in Florida? The fair district laws required that districts follow natural boundaries wherever possible, and ensure districts do not favor or disfavor a political party or incumbent. I tried my hand at such a map, uniting counties and cities that had previously been cracked, centering districts on obvious population centers rather than having them sprawl across the state sampling parts of multiple cities. The result? Not quite as good for Democrats as the old map, but A LOT better than the GOP map.
btw, here is a PDF of the new GOP map. Just have a look at that NC-04.
(Note for non Daily Kos Elections readers: drawing fanciful maps is a time-honored tradition. Yes, I know this won't happen.)
All deviations within a thousand or so. It's difficult getting them particularly close to zero when most individual precincts are several thousand people. All my county splits are for population to get it reasonably close.
NC-01 (Blue): G.K. Butterfield (D). Basically, I just took the heart of this district, smoothed out the tendrils and formerly split counties, and dropped the stuff really far away. Because I didn't cherry-pick precincts for race, the African-American percentage drops to 41%. Obama/McCain is 57/43 (old 62/37). I would have to think Butterfield would still be unbeatable in this seat as African-Americans would dominate the Democratic primary with so many of the white voters Republicans. Safe Dem
NC-02 (Green): Renee Ellmers (R). Drastically cleaned up this one. Rather than grabbing parts of Raleigh, parts of Fayetteville, and parts of whatever the fuck else it wants around the state, I centered it on Fayetteville. It then takes in a few surrounding counties and a tiny bit of southern Wake County. Obama/McCain 49/51 (old 52/47), mainly due to African-Americans dropping to 25% from 30%. Ellmers would have an easier go in this district and she is clearly a strong enough candidate given how she beat longtime Rep. Etheridge, but she would hardly ever be safe (unlike in her brand new GOP-drawn seat). Lean GOP with Ellmers, Tossup when Open
NC-03 (Purple): Walter Jones (R). By cleaning up NC-01, this district also loses its bizarre appearance and becomes a compact eastern NC district. Obama/McCain 42/58 (old 38/61). Not as effective a GOP vote sink, but more fair. Jones' home in Farmville (seriously that's where he lives) has been just barely drawn out as it loses the tendril into Pitt County (dodging the heavily black city of Greenville). Maybe someone would try to primary him, especially given his anti-war views, but he has turned back such challenges before. Safe GOP
NC-04 (Red): David Price (D). Withdraws from Raleigh to be more Durham/Chapel Hills focused, then takes other counties to the north formerly in the 13th. Also sends an arm west to grab Burlington for population. Obama/McCain is 64/35 (old 63/36). Safe Dem
NC-05 (Yellow): Virginia Foxx (R). Shifts further west to touch the 11th district. Previously had a lot of its population in the Winston-Salem suburbs, that seemed unnecessary. Not much overall change here. Obama/McCain 36/62 (old 38/61). Safe GOP
NC-06 (Teal): OPEN (R). Howard Coble gets screwed as he happens to live in a seriously Democratic city and depended on quite creative line-drawing to keep his house in a GOP seat, cutting apart Greensboro to grab only the conservative parts. His old district loses that and is now centered on Lexington, Salisbury, and other conservative counties ringing the Greensboro/Winston-Salem area. His best bet would be to move here, but he would probably face a primary challenge. Obama/McCain 37/62 (old 36/63). Safe GOP
NC-07 (Grey): Mike McIntyre (D). Not too many changes. Just drops the county splits (including its half of Fayetteville) and remains a south NC district. Obama/McCain now 48/51 (old 47/52). Safe Dem with McIntyre, Tossup when open
NC-08 (Pink): Larry Kissell (D). Doesn't change much in the middle section, but the ends make all the difference. Originally it tendrilled in to grab the core of Charlotte to the west, and the core of Fayetteville to the east. It was a fairly silly district. So I compacted it, taking in central NC counties as well as some Charlotte exurbs that wouldn't fit in the new 9th district. Sorry Kissell, you're even more screwed here than in the new GOP map. Obama/McCain 40/59 (old 53/47) Safe GOP
NC-09 (Cyan): Sue Myrick (R) and Mel Watt (D). Formerly a C-shaped district ringing Charlotte to grab the best GOP precincts on both sides, now simply a much more logical Charlotte-based seat, starting from the core of the city and working outwards. I suppose you could say this is actually the successor to the old 12th (and Watt lives here) but as the 9th was mostly in Mecklenburg County this seems the more natural successor. As Kissell gets screwed, so does Myrick. The 9th had the biggest Dem shift of any seat in 2008 and with the redesign it's even more impossible for Myrick to hold. Watt wouldn't be happy about the African-American percentage (compared to the old 12th) dropping from 45% to 35%, but he should still be secure from a primary challenger. The overall district is minority-majority, with a burgeoning Hispanic and Asian population making up for the loss of the African-Americans outside of Charlotte. Best move for Myrick: move to the 8th (which overlaps some old territory) and beat Kissell. Obama/McCain 67/32 (old 45/55). Safe Dem
NC-10 (Maroon/Reddish-Brown): Patrick McHenry (R). Drops the northern stuff, shifts east to be more of a Charlotte exurb district. Overall McHenry could live with this. Obama/McCain 38/61 (old 36/63). Safe GOP
NC-11 (Light Green): Heath Shuler (D). The least changed of the seats. Just expands to grab a handful of more precincts in Rutherford County for population (not that this seat is losing people, just that it can't keep up with explosive growth in the urban areas). This one always made the most sense (start at the western tip and color in everything east til you have 733,000 people) and I find the GOP cutting out Asheville to be particularly shitty. Obama/McCain 46/53 (old 47/52). Safe Dem with Shuler, Tossup when Open.
NC-12 (Navy Blue): Howard Coble (R). Formerly one of the most obviously gerrymandered districts in the country (taking in heavily black areas of Charlotte, Greensboro, and Winston-Salem, as well as random minority-heavy towns along the connecting route), I decided to just center it on the latter two cities. As a result it is 31% African-American and I suspect it would favor adding a third African-American to the North Carolina delegation, as again, the Dem primary would have an even higher minority electorate. Takes in Coble's home and entire base in suburban Greensboro but he would never run here. Obama/McCain 59/40 (old 70/29). Safe Dem
NC-13 (Salmon): Brad Miller (D). Another formerly silly district that needn't be so. Drops the weird arms in to Greensboro and Burlington (running across the northern part of the state) and compacts to just be a Raleigh seat, taking in the city and its suburbs. Somehow the GOP managed to cram Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, AND Fayetteville into a single seat forcing a face-off between Miller and Price, but the cities are more than big enough to anchor multiple seats rather than be crammed together in one. Wake County alone has 900,000 people. Obama/McCain 59/40 (same as old). Safe Dem
So what's the overall damage? Despite the radical reshuffling and de-gerrymandering of the seats from the old Dem map, the overall partisan change is actually quite minimal. Democrats and Republicans both get 5 totally safe seats, Ellmers gets a bit safer, and McIntyre and Shuler both retain safe seats for them that are swingy in an open-seat situation. Of course, Myrick, Kissell, and Coble would hate the shit out of this map, but everyone else would be fine. I think this map would reflect North Carolina's partisan leanings, respect communities of interest, and not crack counties and cities unnecessarily. In short, Democrats should have pushed a fair district law in North Carolina as soon as it became apparent what kind of year 2010 was going to be. Of course, they also shouldn't have taken away the ability of the governor to veto maps, but ehh...