By on 8.2.21 in Carolina Demographics, Census 2020, Elections & Voting

This is the first post in a three-part series previewing redistricting in North Carolina. Other posts  preview what redistricting means for NC’s House and what redistricting means for NC’s Senate.

Shortly after the new population numbers come out from the Census, states redraw their legislative district boundaries. This once-a-decade process – called redistricting – ensures that voting districts across the country have an equal number of people in them, to comply with the principle of “one person, one vote.”

Typically, redistricting starts in April, but data delays due to Covid-19 pushed back the redistricting data release to August 2021. Redistricting data from the 2020 census will be released on Aug. 12 at 1 p.m. ET. The redistricting files are expected to be uploaded to the Census Bureau’s FTP site.

When that happens, North Carolina legislators will begin the process of redrawing the state’s 14 Congressional districts, 50 state senate districts, and 120 state house districts.

Of course, this presents challenges, namely because there are multiple ways to redraw districts. In North Carolina, districts must now follow county lines where possible and adhere to equality of population and protection of the minority vote. There are few other official guidelines.

Other considerations in the redistricting process may be issues like maintaining communities of interest or encouraging political competitiveness. Priorities can conflict with each other. While data can help us understand some of these tradeoffs, there are often multiple statistically appropriate ways to draw districts.

So, how will North Carolina’s political map change?

We don’t really know yet. But population estimates and projections for 2020 can give us some insights on what might happen. Observed patterns of growth suggest that faster-growing, predominantly urban and suburban areas will gain seats in the General Assembly.

In North Carolina, the redistricting process for the General Assembly is now partially determined by an algorithm that helps to ensure that districts align with county boundaries as much as possible. During the early summer of 2021, we worked with a team of researchers from across the state to understand the potential impacts of population change on state-level redistricting. (Learn more about the team and our approach.) In the next two posts, we break down what might happen in North Carolina’s House and Senate.

Key takeaways:

  • The ideal district size for NC House seats will be 86,995 and can range between 82,645 and 91,345
  • The ideal district size for NC Senate seats will be 208,788 and can range between 198,348 and 219,227
  • Wake and Mecklenburg may gain seats in the House
  • County clusters have the greatest volatility in areas with declining populations
  • The 2020 Census numbers will be different than the estimates presented here; these differences, even if small, could have a large impact on the political map.

How can I learn more?

We will be writing a series of posts and explainers about redistricting in the coming days and will disseminate additional information through our newsletter. You can sign up here.

If you have questions about redistricting, let us know and we will do our best to answer.

August 5: The Census Bureau is holding an informational webinar in advance of the redistricting data release on Thursday, August 5 at 1 p.m. EDT.

August 11: The NC Office of State Budget and Management is hosting a virtual event to discuss how and where to get the data and the legal foundation of redistricting.

Additional analysis and commentary can be found at: