HIGH POINT — It may become a question that spurs political wrangling this year in North Carolina.
Will we get a 14th congressional district and, if so, where will legislators draw it?
Whether the state gains a congressional seat because of population growth will be determined by numbers being crunched now by the U.S. Census Bureau. The census will show whether North Carolina’s growth during the previous decade merits adding a congressional district.
“North Carolina is almost certain to gain a 14th congressional district as a result of the 2020 census,” said John Dinan, professor of political science at Wake Forest University. “We do not yet have the final census data, but we do have the benefit of the July 2020 census bureau state population estimates, and based on this data North Carolina is clearly in line for a 14th House seat.”
North Carolina is one of six states that appear to be in line to gain at least one seat in the U.S. House of Representatives — Florida may gain two, and Texas could gain three — while eight are projected to lose a seat, according to Election Data Services.
The N.C. General Assembly would have to redraw the maps for the state’s congressional districts to account for the new seat. Republicans will steer congressional redistricting because they control both legislative chambers, and second-term Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper doesn’t have veto power over congressional or state legislative redistricting bills.
Population growth in the state has been driven largely by Charlotte, Research Triangle and Wilmington areas, according to Carolina Demography, part of the Carolina Population Center at UNC-Chapel Hill.
But Dinan said it’s too early to gauge where a 14th District would be, including whether it might include part of the greater High Point area or other parts of the Piedmont Triad.
“Once that detailed census redistricting data is released later this year, then we will be in a better position to comment on whether the new 14th District will include the Triad in some fashion,” Dinan told The High Point Enterprise.
Demographics alone won’t determine where the new district is drawn, he said.
“They are also determined by legislative bargaining and deliberation, with legislators from various parts of the state vying for the new district to be drawn in their area, whether as part of the Triangle or the suburbs of Charlotte or other parts of the state,” Dinan said.
Legislators, would-be congressional candidates and political observers should know by the end of this month whether the state has gained an additional district when the U.S. Census Bureau releases total population numbers for the 50 states.
“But the April 30 census data will only show the total population by state and will not actually provide the specific data that state legislators needed to draw district lines within states,” Dinan said. “That portion of the census data will not be released until Sept. 30.”
North Carolina remained at 11 congressional districts from the 1960s through the 1980s. But the state’s population growth generated a 12th district 30 years ago and a 13th district 20 years ago.
The High Point area and Piedmont Triad are served by two representatives. Third-term Rep. Ted Budd, R-13th, serves a district that includes Randolph and Davidson counties, while freshman Rep. Kathy Manning, D-6th, has a district featuring all of Guilford County.
One wild card with congressional and state legislative redistricting is the chance for legal challenges to any new map. A succession of court challenges to maps over the past decade compelled the General Assembly to redraw electoral boundaries several times.
Whether a legal challenge emerges with the new round of redistricting will depend on how the maps are drawn and perceived, said Martin Kifer, chairman of the High Point University Political Science Department.
“On the one hand, I can imagine any districts that are proposed may be the subject of litigation,” Kifer told The Enterprise. “On the other hand, how robust that legal challenge is depends on what actually is produced.”
A group of Democratic legislators recently introduced a bill to set up a bipartisan, independent commission to craft congressional districts, as well as set boundaries for the 120 state House seats and 50 state Senate seats.
Legislators filing House Bill 437 were joined by opponents of gerrymandering, including Bob Phillips, executive director of the advocacy group Common Cause NC, who contend that an independent redistricting commission would create less politically lopsided districts.
“This legislation provides lasting, nonpartisan reform that would end gerrymandering for good in North Carolina,” Phillips said. “The Fair Maps Acts would stop the practice of politicians manipulating our voting districts and it would ensure voters have a true voice in choosing their representatives.”
However, previous efforts to create independent redistricting have come up short no matter which party controlled the General Assembly.