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Deciphering the election results in NC: It’s the gerrymandering, stupid

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Politicians and pundits are just beginning to sift through the results of the 2022 midterms in North Carolina and people of different partisan and ideological persuasions are, not surprisingly, drawing different conclusions.

Republicans and their supporters are celebrating a victory at the top of the ticket in the U.S. Senate race and relishing the opportunity that their new dominance of the Supreme Court and the General Assembly will likely provide to push state policy even further to the right. From their perspective, it’s hard to see last night as anything other than a vindication of their policies and campaign strategies.

Meanwhile, Democrats and their allies are taking solace from the surprising gains they achieved in the state’s congressional delegation, as well as their apparent success in preventing the GOP from winning a veto-proof supermajority in the state House of Representatives. They note that, together with the surprising strength Democrats showed across the country (particularly in defeating candidates loyal to Donald Trump), these results amount to a much-better-than-average midterm election performance for the party in control of the White House.

If there’s a single and most important conclusion to be drawn from North Carolina results, however, it is this: gerrymandering remains the key to GOP policy dominance.

Yes, Republicans did well in the statewide races by sweeping the Senate race and appellate court contests, but their winning margins hardly constituted landslides. Ted Budd won with 50.7% of the vote. The GOP judges were in the 52-54% range.

These kinds of numbers are not consistent (and should not produce) a General Assembly in which the Republicans hold big, three-to-two majorities — especially given that voters agree with Democrats by significant margins on a host of hot-button issues, including abortion rights, guns, the environment and healthcare.

The chief source of these inordinate numbers, of course, is partisan gerrymandering. The 7-7 split that Democrats achieved in U.S. House races, where the courts intervened more aggressively to assure fairer maps, provides further evidence of this.

When the final totals are compiled in the 170 legislative races, there’s no way that Republicans will have won 60% of the votes cast. Unfortunately, thanks to the gerrymandering that the GOP has baked into state elections for more than a decade (and the fact that when the going got tough and incredibly complex in reviewing and approving state legislative maps, the courts pulled back from assuring truly fair and non-gerrymandered districts), this won’t matter.

When it comes to making laws in 2023-24, a deeply purple state in which compromise and common ground ought to be the best hope for passing new laws, will instead remain dominated by the political right.

And, thanks to the GOP takeover of the state courts, it will also be one in which efforts to double down on aggressive partisan gerrymandering are sure to be revived yet again and, in all likelihood, receive even less judicial scrutiny.

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Deciphering the election results in NC: It’s the gerrymandering, stupid