What should the goal of redistricting be?

For years, it’s been to give one party the maximum possible advantage. This probably isn’t ideal — especially now that self-sorting and technology make gerrymandering brutally effective.

Gerrymandering has been back in the news after the 2018 elections, which saw Republicans maintain their 10-3 advantage in North Carolina’s congressional delegation. Renewed interest has been given to the simulated district map drawn by a panel of retired judges convened by Duke University — designed to create a balance between Democrats and Republicans. Take a look:

Image via Common Cause

This map presumably has six safe Republican seats, four safe Democratic seats and three toss-up seats. Either party could conceivably have a majority of the state’s U.S. House delegation.

It’s not the worst map in the world. But it is certainly gerrymandered. And it doesn’t take into account the distinct differences between rural, urban and suburban areas.

[Longleaf story: Redistricting reform is just a search for a better gerrymander]

I set out to create a map based on actual cohesion within districts — not gerrymandering.

The biggest downside to today’s districts is that some are very hard for one person to accurately represent their diversity of opinions.

How can the 9th Congressional District congressman truly represent both western Mecklenburg County and Bladen County?

How is the 7th Congressional District congressman representing New Hanover and Johnston counties?

So I started thinking about how other agencies divide up North Carolina. Here’s how the N.C. Department of Transportation does it.

And here’s how the Department of Environmental Quality does it for solid waste:

This can’t apply to congressional districts because the populations are too divergent. But it got me thinking — what if we grouped districts by something that made sense, and let the chips fall where they may?

Using the Dave’s Redistricting program, I made my own map lumping together cohesive parts of the state. It’s not as clean as I’d like it to be because each district needs to have roughly the same population.

To be sure, the population numbers the program uses are a little dated. But they’re a good reference point. Here’s my map.

You’ve got districts for:

  • Metro Charlotte
  • Metro Wake County
  • Tidewater
  • Cape Fear region
  • Mountains
  • Foothills
  • Charlotte suburbs
  • Greater Winston-Salem
  • Greater Greensboro
  • Greater Durham-Chapel Hill
  • Western Charlotte suburbs
  • Western Wake suburbs
  • Northeastern coastal plain

I didn’t check the partisan leanings until I was finished. And I was pleasantly surprised. It creates 6 Republican districts, 5 Democratic districts, and 2 toss-ups. Of those, two are very strong Republican districts, and two are very strong Democratic districts.

I’m sure there are issues with this map. I spent an hour on it. But not bad, right?

Let’s allow representatives to actually represent something.

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