Do new NC election district maps treat Black voters fairly? (And, what is “Gingles”?)

Published October 26, 2023

By Lynn Bonner

NC Senate districts

State Senate districts proposed for use in the next election. Image: NC General Assembly


Redistricting debates are some of the most jargony going, with frequent talk of “VTDs,” “county groupings,” and references to various court cases. 

One of the terms mentioned several times a day at the North Carolina General Assembly is “Gingles.” Gingles is shorthand for a 1986 U.S. Supreme Court decision in a North Carolina redistricting lawsuit. 

The Gingles decision set up a three-pronged test to see if minority voters are being treated unfairly by spreading them out across districts. That’s called vote “dilution” in redistricting-speak. 

Here are the three conditions to look for to see if minority votes are being diluted. 

  • The minority group is large and compact enough to form a district. 
  • It is politically cohesive. 
  • The white majority votes as a bloc to defeat the minority group’s preferred candidate. 

North Carolina did not conduct a study of racially polarized voting in the current round of map drawing. Redistricting committee chairmen said past studies showed there isn’t any. 

Republicans control the legislature, and they drew the district plans.

On Wednesday, Sen. Paul Newton, a Senate redistricting chairman, said the plans are “fair and legal and comply with the law.”

Republicans did put out a call for any evidence of problems last week, and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice responded with an Oct. 22 letter to legislative leaders and redistricting committee members describing eastern and northeastern counties that could be reconfigured in the map of state Senate districts to create districts that comply with the federal Voting Rights Act. 

The letter asks legislators to conduct a full analysis, but said that District 1 and District 2 in the new state Senate map are obvious examples of the problem. 

Those districts have sizable Black populations, but prevent Black voters from electing the candidate of their choice, the letter said. 

If the Senate left the district lines in that area unchanged from the 2022 election, just as they are, the plan would eliminate that Voting Rights Act violation, the letter said.

The district numbers have changed in the new map, though the counties included in the districts are the same. In the 2022 plan, they are District 1 and District 3.


                                  NC Senate map of eastern districts

The new proposed District 1 and District 2 for the state Senate. Image: NC General Assembly

NC Senate map of eastern districts for 2022
The map used in the 2022 state Senate elections. Districts 1 and 3 include the same counties as the new Districts 1 and 2. Image: NC General Assembly


The letter also includes data from the 2022 election to show “extreme racially polarized voting in North Carolina’s Black Belt.” In a previous letter, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice told legislators to keep all their documents in preparation for a lawsuit.