Special Master Special 2: The Special Master Strikes Back

The special master released his new maps two weeks early. We take a look at what they contained.

The special master strikes back

No idea what a special master is? Check out this newsletter to get the history.

Teacher’s pet: the special master finishes his homework 2 weeks early.

The special master surprised everyone this week when he released his first crack at the new North Carolina senate and house district maps on Tuesday. The court required him to finish by December 1st, but he released the maps early so that he could give everyone a chance to object. This is probably why he is a master.

Why were the maps unconstitutional in the first place? Previous maps intentionally made it more difficult for minorities to elect their preferred candidate. 

In 1965, the Voting Rights Act (VRA) was enacted to end the very messed-up practice of keeping citizens from voting based on the color of their skin. One of the major goals of the VRA was to let minority citizens elect legislators that would represent them. In order for this to happen, districts must be drawn fairly and in a way that where it’s at least possible for minorities to have a majority vote. So, it is illegal for mapmakers to distribute minorities across several districts where their population is too small to elect their candidate. It is also illegal to pack as many minorities as possible into as few districts as possible, where, yes they are electing their preferred candidate, but they don’t get very many of them. And to clarify - it isn’t illegal to gerrymander based on party, but it is illegal to gerrymander based on race (because of the VRA). Here’s North Carolina’s Representative David Lewis desperately trying to convince the court that he is not gerrymandering based on race, only by party.

What do his new maps do? Turn districts that looked like jigsaw puzzles into your basic shapes.

One of the ways to tell if someone might have been up to no good when drawing a district is by looking at how squiggly the borders are. If your district looks like a snake or an octopus, it might mean the map-drawer was trying to pick their voters. However, districts that look like they could be extras in the Little Mermaid don’t always mean something malicious happened - it’s just one of many metrics for analyzing districts. The special master’s new maps smoothed out the borders of some of the most odd-shaped districts. You can see comparisons of the new to old districts here. Significantly less serpent-like.

He didn’t try to protect incumbents...because that’s kind of the whole point of new maps.

In August, the General Assembly passed map-drawing criteria. Part of this criteria called for protecting incumbents, meaning the new maps should try to make sure incumbents don’t end up in the same district. The special master didn’t seem very concerned about protecting incumbents. Republican and democrat incumbents ended up in the same district, much to their chagrin. Part of his reasoning for submitting maps early, though, is to give folks a chance to object. He did say he would try to consider incumbents for his next crack at the maps, but wouldn’t compromise the constitutionality of his maps

What does this mean for the Republicans’ supermajority in the North Carolina House and Senate? Could mean more competitive districts.

It isn’t clear yet what this will mean for Republicans’ supermajorities in the House and Senate. However, the special master did try to make districts around Hoke, Cumberland, Guilford, Bladen, Sampson, Wayne, Wake, and Mecklenburg counties more fair. For example, in 2016 Senate districts 19 and 21 were won by a Republican (with 56% of the vote) and a Democrat (with 71% of the vote), respectively. Where these two districts meet is also very serpent-like. By smoothing out both of these districts, more democrats could end up in Senate districts 19 and more Republicans in district 21, making both districts more competitive.

So what now? The Republicans have until today to submit their objections.

Better polish up that final draft, boys