Electoral maps for next year's General Assembly elections have been finalized, and five districts in Western North Carolina (three House, two Senate) will see significant changes. A state court earlier this year ruled Republicans illegally gerrymandered the districts used in the last election for their own partisan advantage, forcing new ones to be drawn in a non-partisan manner for the 2020 election.
A similar ruling last month is forcing maps used for U.S. House of Representative elections in North Carolina be re-drawn in that manner as well.
Dr. Chris Cooper is the head of the political science department at Western Carolina University. He joined BPR's Matt Bush to discuss the changes in the General Assembly districts for Western North Carolina and their electoral impact, as well what may happen with the new Congressional districts once new maps are completed. That could happen later this month, as state lawmakers are meeting in Raleigh this week to begin the re-drawing process.
THE 48TH & 49TH STATE SENATE DISTRICTS
Two state senate seats for Western North Carolina will see significant geographic shifts, though Cooper is not so sure either will see a big partisan shift. The 48th district, currently represented by Republican Chuck Edwards, covers both Henderson and Transylvania Counties, as well as much of Southern Buncombe County including parts of South Asheville. The rest of the Buncombe County sits in the 49th district, represented now by Democrat Terry Van Duyn. Under the new map, the 48th will get Eastern Buncombe County (including Swannanoa and Black Mountain), while the 49th will now have the Central and Western parts of Buncombe, including all of Asheville. "In general, I think these new maps make (the 48th and 49th) more competitive for Democrats," says Cooper. "Slightly isn't enough to decide an election though," he adds. Edwards is running for re-election to this seat, while Van Duyn is not. Instead, she is running for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor next year. Three Democrats have announced their candidacy to succeed her in the state senate.
BUNCOMBE COUNTY'S THREE HOUSE DISTRICTS
Buncombe County has three state house districts, all of which are currently represented by Democrats (114 - Susan Fisher, 115 - John Ager, and 116 - Brian Turner). The gerrymandered districts used through 2018 were commonly referred to as a 'donut', with the 114th in the middle representing most of the city of Asheville, with the 115th and 116th on either side of it representing the city's immediate suburbs. Cooper says this new map will probably mean each seat will be a little more competitive electorally, as the Democratic-stronghold of Asheville is split up into different districts. This new map will also be used for future Buncombe County commissioner elections. Democrats currently hold a slight 4-3 edge on the board.
NEW CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICTS
Political observers are awaiting the new Congressional maps that state lawmakers are currently drawing. Currently, Republicans control 10 of North Carolina's 13 seats. That includes the two districts that represent Western North Carolina, with Patrick McHenry in the 10th and Mark Meadows in the 11th. Prior to the last round of redistricting in 2012, the 11th included all of the westernmost counties in whole, and Democrat Heath Shuler held the seat for three terms. The redraw for 2012 cut Buncombe County and the city of Asheville in two, leading Shuler to retire and Meadows to win the seat. Cooper says the 11th as currently drawn is the safest Republican seat in North Carolina. He says a redrawn 11th with all of Asheville and Buncombe County in it would make the seat more competitive for Democrats, but likely not enough to topple Meadows. "(Redrawing the 11th district) line will also change the 10th Congressional district," Cooper says. "It's not like those voters just go away." The state board of elections says the new maps must be finished and certified by December 15th, in order for candidate filing for the March primary to proceed.