User Dunk claims that North Carolina is not gerrymandered:

...people are ... ignorant to use North Carolina as some proof of gerrymandering. ... The republicans changed the boundaries into extremely common sense divisions. Representatives now share the common interests of the people they represent...

Are North Carolina's political districts in fact merely "extremely common sense" boundaries?


The recent Supreme Court ruling on this specific case is available. In this instance the court was split 5-4 along Conservative/Liberal lines.

The majority opinion states that Partisan Gerrymandering is outside the jurisdiction of the federal courts.

Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the conservative 5-4 majority in Rucho v. Common Cause, admitted that excessive partisan gerrymandering is “incompatible with democratic principles” and “leads to results that reasonably seem unjust.” But, the Court held, challenges to the practice “present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts.”

The minority opinion notes that the cases before the court had been subjected to common judicial tests and that both Maryland (Dem) and North Carolina (Rep) had been shown to be Gerrymandered for Partisan political gain.

Applying that test to the North Carolina and Maryland cases, Kagan determined that illegal partisan gerrymandering had occurred in both. “By substantially diluting the votes of citizens favoring their rivals, the politicians of one party had succeeded in entrenching themselves in office,” she wrote. “They had beat democracy.”

So, the short answer to the question would appear to be Yes, North Carolina's (and Maryland's) districts have been gerrymandered for political gain, but that this is (based on a 5-4 ruling) legal within the United States on a federal basis. Whether this is legal on a state level is still an ongoing concern.

The Federal District courts applied the following tests, both cases failed these tests and were judged to be Partisan Gerrymandering.

Kagan cited the three-part test the federal district courts in North Carolina and Maryland, and other courts around the country, used to decide vote dilution claims. The test examines intent, effects and causation. First, plaintiffs must show that the state officials’ “predominant purpose” in drawing district lines was to “entrench [their party] in power” by diluting the votes of the rival party. Second, plaintiffs must establish that the lines drawn “substantially” diluted their votes. Third, the burden shifts to the State to posit a “legitimate, non-partisan justification to save its map.”

The full opinion of the lower court is available, and appears to set the affect of dilution at 19.4%, but the precise meaning of this is not something I currently understand.

  • I think this answer could be made more convincing by adding what those "common judicial tests" were and what exactly their results were.
    – Philipp
    Jul 3 '19 at 14:03
  • 2
    @Phillipp added the tests, but I disagree that the Supreme Court ruling is not relevant, because it makes the whole question moot. Gerrymandering is (federally) legal, so the content of the tests is the thing that's irrelevant because the ruling allows districts to be redrawn purely for political purposes.
    – Jontia
    Jul 3 '19 at 14:11
  • OK, but were the results of these judicial tests? How much did the districts "dilute the votes of the rival party" and how can we see that this was intentional? And what are the counter-arguments by those who drew the maps? Also, the question does not ask if it was illegal, just if it was gerrymandering. Just because it was legal gerrymandering doesn't mean it wasn't gerrymandering.
    – Philipp
    Jul 3 '19 at 14:15
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    Kagan's dissent is fairly specific: "...a map that produces a greater partisan skew than any of 3,000 randomly generated maps (all with the State’s political geography and districting criteria built in) reflects “too much” partisanship. Think about what I just said: The absolute worst of 3,001 possible maps. The only one that could produce a 10–3 partisan split even as Republicans got a bare majority of the statewide vote. ... A map that in 2011 was responsible for the largest partisan swing of a congressional district in the country."
    – agc
    Jul 3 '19 at 14:22
  • @Philipp The Dilution appears to be 19.4% but this is probably not a minimum limit, just the one determined in this case. That said I haven't read/understood the entire 200 page opinion. Percentage appears on page 125
    – Jontia
    Jul 8 '19 at 21:28

Are North Carolina's districts extremely common sense?

You can look for yourself - the colors designate each district.

enter image description here

Other than 2 and 4, they look pretty common sense and even those aren't particularly egregious by the (admittedly low) standard of east coast state congressional districts. Just based on looking at them and how they interact with municipal boundaries, they don't have any wild curves or exclaves. There seem to be more deviations from county lines than necessary, but superficially they aren't the snaking salamander districts that come to mind when we think of gerrymandering.

Are North Carolina's districts competitive and does the party makeup of representatives roughly match the population?

Jontia's answer covers this quite well to a resounding no. The entire Supreme Court signed onto opinions labelling this as egregious partisan gerrymandering.

Extremely common sense districts and outcomes that drastically favor one party over another are not mutually exclusive possibilities. Even computer algorithms designed purely for geometry can favor one party depending on the demographics. This compact algorithmic districting, results in far from the close to 50/46 split seen in the presidential popular vote for North Carolina.

In this case, (and most cases in contemporary US politics) cities are strongly progressive while rural and suburban areas are more split. In order to create districts that don't favor one party over another, the districts might actually have to look somewhat odd. Compare 538's hypothetical map designed to promote competitive elections:

538's competitive NC map

...to the current map. The competitive one actually looks just as gerrymandered as the current one, thanks to demographic concentrations of voters. One promising way of promoting fair districting involves not geometry and common sense, but self interest in shaping districts.

  • 3
    The general comments about the lack of mutual exclusion is a really good one. However looking at the map, I'd pick out districts 2 and 4 as looking "salamander" like, although I've seen worse. Districts 1/3, 10/11 and 13/6 seems to take half a chunk of each other's whatever the underlaying thick black lines represent. The last time it looked "extreme common sense" based on a high level view like this would be 1992
    – Jontia
    Jul 3 '19 at 14:39
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    Also, I love the fivethrityeight links. It's worth noting that the "current" and "gerrymander to favour Republican" maps produce the exact same result.
    – Jontia
    Jul 3 '19 at 14:42
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    "Extremely common" is an inadvertent oxymoron... blame me for including Dunk's wording in the question.
    – agc
    Jul 3 '19 at 15:13
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    I'm not sure that I'd call that extension of 10 that takes up half a county(?) that's otherwise in 11 a "common sense" border. Ditto the tiny extension into 13, or the 13-6 border. I like the rest of this answer, but I feel like that whole first paragraph is disingenuous.
    – Bobson
    Jul 3 '19 at 17:53
  • 7
    @Dunk - I'll agree that the 93-98 map (which I assume was Democrat-designed) is particularly absurd. That said, I'm not sure what relevance that has now. Just because that was a particularly egregious example doesn't mean that the current map is not gerrymandered.
    – Bobson
    Jul 3 '19 at 22:15

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