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

Image: AdobeStock

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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The key issues North Carolina voters are likely deciding today

Photo by Hill Street Studios/Getty Images.

As noted in yesterday’s “Monday numbers” commentary, North Carolina is not a referendum state in which citizens can place initiatives on the ballot, but for better or worse, this year’s vote will serve, effectively, as referendum on several key issues of great importance (and on which voters tend to hold very strong opinions).

This is chiefly because two enormously important institutions will be greatly impacted by the outcome of the election.

First, of course, is the state legislature.

Thanks to aggressive partisan gerrymandering by GOP lawmakers, the legislature has leaned heavily Republican for years and will almost certainly continue to do so after this year’s election. That said, the critical question today is whether Republicans will win large veto-proof supermajorities in both the state Senate and House. This would require increasing GOP majorities by two seats in the Senate and three in the House.

If this happens, Gov. Cooper’s veto will cease to be effective and there will likely be little-to-no check on how far right state policy will shift on a raft of key issues.

The list includes:

  • abortion rights, where North Carolina would almost certainly cease to be a sanctuary state for patients from throughout the southeast,
  • guns, where even more laws to loosen access to firearms would be a virtual certainty,
  • education, where further expansion of vouchers and charters and renewed efforts to micromanage curricula will be on tap,
  • health care access, where the prospects of Medicaid expansion would be dealt another strong blow,
  • LGBTQ rights, where lawmakers can be expected to do everything in their power erect new limits — particularly for transgender people,
  • environmental protection, where the state’s limited ongoing efforts to address climate change will be further restricted or reversed,
  • fiscal policy, where ongoing efforts to end the state’s personal corporate income taxes will gain new momentum, and
  • redistricting, where the GOP seems likely to try again to further gerrymander legislative and congressional districts.

And, of course, all of these efforts would almost certainly be further bolstered if the GOP captures control of a second institution — the state Supreme Court. Currently, Democrats enjoy a 4-3 majority on the high court — a situation that has allowed it to hand down a number of progressive rulings on several issues in recent years — including education funding, environmental protection, voting rights, and redistricting.

Two of the court’s four Democratic seats are on the ballot in today’s election and if Republicans capture either one, most observers expect a hard right turn on the court.

In particular, it’s easy to envision a scenario in which a Republican-dominated court aggressively undermines recent rulings on partisan gerrymandering — a development that would allow the legislature to redraw maps yet again so as to guarantee even larger GOP majorities in both the legislature and the state’s congressional delegation.

Interestingly, public opinion polls tend to show that most North Carolinians are opposed to the aggressive conservative policy changes described above, but for now, other polls seem to indicate that this is unlikely to be reflected in today’s vote, which is expected to follow the long-standing American tradition of favoring the party out of power in the White House.

If this ends up being the result, it will be fascinating to see how North Carolinians respond in the months and years ahead to having facilitated a bevy of policy changes with which they disagree.


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The week’s top stories on NC Policy Watch

In this issue:

1. BREAKING: NC Supreme Court issues much anticipated rulings on education funding, environmental protection

After nearly three decades of litigation, Leandro case finally comes to a head as justices order lawmakers to fund court-approved education improvement plan

By Greg Childress

In a dramatic ruling issued just days before midterm elections, the North Carolina Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s ruling and ordered the transfer of millions of dollars to pay for a school improvement plan designed to provide the state’s school children with the sound basic education guaranteed under the state constitution.


Justices rule chemical giants cannot escape liability for PFAS pollution in southeastern NC

By Lisa Sorg

The North Carolina Supreme Court has upheld a lower court’s finding that “New DuPont” and Corteva are liable for potential legal damages in North Carolina related to PFAS contamination, according to a ruling published today.

[Read more…]

2. Out-of-state patients spur abortion increase in North Carolina

Many more people are seeking abortions in North Carolina since June, when the U.S. Supreme Court rescinded the constitutional right to abortion and neighboring states began outlawing or severely restricting abortions.

Fifty-three percent of the people coming to A Woman’s Choice North Carolina clinics are from out of state, spokeswoman Amber Gavin said in an interview. At least one person has come as far away as Missouri.

Getting to North Carolina from out of state is a “complicated balancing act,” for patients, Gavin said, that depends on whether they are flying in or driving, where they can get an appointment, and where the physicians they need to see are located. “We are really seeing folks from all over the South,” she said.

[Read more…]

**BONUS COMMENTARY: North Carolina physician: Why I’m terrified about the prospect of an abortion ban in our state

Photo: Forward Justice/Unlock the Vote Facebook page

3. PW special report: Restoring hope in the vote among those with felony convictions in North Carolina

More than 50,000 North Carolinians can vote this fall thanks to a court ruling that restored the rights of people on probation and parole. But their gains are precarious.

This article was produced as a collaboration between Bolts and NC Policy Watch.

One hot afternoon in early October, Corey Purdie helped put the finishing touches on the exterior of the 300-square-foot house at Broad and Queen streets in New Bern, North Carolina. He touched up a corner of the building with white paint as other volunteers interrupted him to ask questions, say hello and point out that he was using the wrong paintbrush. Soon, an elderly man would move into the bright blue house, the first place he’d be able to call his own after spending more than eight years in prison and about three in a halfway house.

[Read more…]

**BONUS READ: Concerns grow that voter intimidation could disrupt midterm elections

4. Gov. Cooper’s new commission will study how the UNC System is governed, but change is unlikely

After years of conflict and controversy within the UNC System, a bipartisan commission will study its governance, but without the power to implement changes, it’s unclear what impact the commission’s work will have.

On Tuesday Gov. Roy Cooper announced the Governor’s Commission on the Governance of Public Universities in North Carolina, created by executive order. It will be headed by former UNC System presidents Tom Ross and Margaret Spellings, a prominent Democrat and Republican, respectively.

“North Carolina’s public universities are our most valuable assets,” Cooper said in a statement. “And the key to building a stronger economy with opportunity for everyone and they need serious, diverse leadership committed to working together for the good of our students, faculty, future employers and our state.”

[Read more]

5. Report: Decline in teachers with traditional education degrees linked to growth in charter schools

As charter schools proliferate across America, there has been a corresponding decline in the number of new teachers earning bachelor’s degrees in education from traditional preparation programs, according to a new study from the National Center for Research on Education Access and Choice (REACH). Researchers Doug Harris, the national director of REACH, and Mary Penn, a research partner at the center, found that for every 10% increase in charter school enrollment, the supply of teachers who earn bachelor’s degrees in traditional educator preparation programs decreases by 13.5% to 15.2% on average.

Between 2007 and 2016, the number of new teachers decreased by about 20%. And roughly one in five classroom teachers now comes from alternative preparation programs; the remainder graduate from traditional programs.

[Read more…]

**BONUS READ: State Board of Education to receive teacher licensure and pay proposal next month

6. Report shows contaminated groundwater is migrating toward Teer Quarry, site of Durham’s future water supply

High levels of several toxic chemicals have been detected in groundwater near Teer Quarry, storage site for Durham’s future water supply, and are migrating toward the pit itself, state documents show.

However, it is still uncertain if these compounds will reach the quarry, and if so, at what concentrations.

The contaminant of greatest concern is 1,4-Dioxane, a likely carcinogen. It was found in more than half of the 26 groundwater monitoring wells at levels 3 to 50 times above the state’s target value for water supplies, according to a consultant’s report filed with the NC Department of Environmental Quality.

[Read more…]

7. The hard truth that no candidate of either party has the courage to speak anymore (Commentary)

To the relief of just about everyone – with the possible exception of advertising sales staff at the nation’s media companies – the 2022 midterms will soon be over.

In just a few days, Americans are likely to know the answers to a host of momentous questions:

  • Will the work that’s finally commenced to address the global environmental crisis proceed or stall?
  • Will the levers of democracy in several states be placed in the hands of politicians who embrace delusional conspiracy theories?
  • Will the nation soon come face-to-face with the real prospect of default on the national debt and a federal government shutdown?
  • Will U.S. opposition to Vladimir Putin’s aggression and its support for democracy in Ukraine continue or be upended?
  • Will abortion rights in states like North Carolina be further eroded?
[Read more…]

8. NC judge orders community services for more people with disabilities. The state objects, saying the deadlines are unrealistic.

Thousands of people with disabilities would receive services to help keep them out of institutions, and a waiting list of more than 16,000 North Carolinians needing direct care would be whittled to zero over 10 years under a sweeping court order issued this week.

Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour’s order follows his 2020 decision that the state is breaking the law by failing to provide needed services that would enable people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to live outside institutions. The order is part of the “Samantha R.” lawsuit Disability Rights NC filed in 2017 on behalf of people who were institutionalized or faced institutionalization.

“It’s a very big deal,” said Tim Rhoney, Samantha’s father.

[Read more…]

9. Weekly Radio Interviews and daily Radio Commentaries:

Click here for the latest radio interviews and commentaries with Policy Watch Director Rob Schofield.



10. Weekly Editorial Cartoon:

The week’s top stories on NC Policy Watch

Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Image

1. Memo to Biden critics: We’d all love to see the plan

The attacks on the president are relentless, but the political right offers no plausible policy alternatives

Since Joe Biden assumed the presidency 21 months ago, the United States has, by any fair estimate, enjoyed a remarkable recovery in an array of vitally important areas.

During the week in which Biden took office in January 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calculated that 21,554 Americans died from COVID-19. Last week, the number was 2,566.

In January 2021, the U.S. had largely abandoned any national commitment to tackling the existential global environmental crisis brought on by climate change. Today, it is once again taking steps to reassert global leadership.

[Read more…]

**BONUS COMMENTARY: America is amusing itself to death and hack politicians are taking advantage

Base map: Colonial Pipeline filings with DEQ

2. Colonial Pipeline contamination spreading in Huntersville; MVP Southgate natural gas project on ice, and more

A plume of polluted groundwater is spreading in Mecklenburg County, where Colonial Pipeline is responsible for the largest gasoline spill in the U.S. since the early 1990s.

On Aug. 14, 2020, two teenage boys found gasoline bubbling from the ground at the Oehler Nature Preserve, in Huntersville. The company now estimates 2 million gallons leaked from a section of pipeline that had broken roughly a month before. The groundwater contains very high levels of benzene, a known carcinogen, and other toxic contaminants related to petroleum products: toluene, xylene, naphthalene and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAH.

Since the accident, Colonial has been pumping contaminated groundwater from the site and hauling it away for disposal. But groundwater being groundwater – it likes to move according to gravity, especially when it mingles with gasoline – the plume is expanding.

[Read more…]

Photo: Getty Images

3. National government associations and legal scholars want U.S. Supreme Court to reject NC Republicans’ theory on elections

If NC lawmakers prevail, states face the prospect of being forced to run different elections under different voting rules

National associations representing cities, counties and mayors are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to reject North Carolina Republicans’ claim that legislatures should be the sole state authority setting rules for federal elections.

In a friend of the court brief filed Wednesday in the case Moore vs. Harper, the local government associations said a decision in favor of North Carolina legislators would create a complicated two-tiered system of elections in some states, muck-up ballot counting, and undermine confidence in elections.

[Read more]

Image AdobeStock

4. North Carolina Republican leaders embrace Christian nationalism

Conservative pastors, political allies aim to tear down any wall between church and state

When Pastor Ken Graves took the podium at Calvary Chapel Lake Norman in Statesville last month, he cut an imposing figure.

Dressed in jeans and heavy boots, the sleeves of his work shirt rolled up to reveal the large tattoos on his massive forearms, he wore a leather holster on his belt. With Western movie gunfighter flourish, he pulled from it a Bible. The book is a great weapon, he told the crowd, a sword which must be unsheathed.

“The people have always had a tendency, even spiritual people, to have their sort of favorite thing that God does,” Graves said. “There were those, no doubt, who were all about the miracles that Christ was performing, the wonders of God that were happening right before their eyes.”

[Read more…]

**BONUS READ: Demographic shifts, historical revisionism fueling Christian nationalist push among conservatives

Photo: Duke Univ. livestream

5. Supreme Court candidates tout nonpartisanship as deeply partisan election looms

The four candidates running for two open seats on the North Carolina Supreme Court all gave different versions of the same message at a forum Wednesday night: Despite running as Republicans or Democrats in the election concluding on Nov. 8, it is important that a sitting Supreme Court justice not be thought of as a politician in a robe.

“I’m a person, not a partisan,” said Lucy Inman, a judge on the state’s Court of Appeals and the Democratic candidate for the seat left vacant by Justice Robin Hudson’s retirement.

“I think there’s a lot of politics that are at the court,” said Richard Dietz, also a judge on the court of Appeals and Inman’s Republican opponent. “There’s also a lot that the public sees and believes that the court is being political, and we need to fix that.”

Inman and Dietz were joined by Republican Trey Allen and his opponent, incumbent Democrat Sam J Ervin, IV. The four candidates participated in a “nonpartisan candidates forum” hosted by Duke University School of Law and moderated by Professor Marin K. Levy.

[Read more…]

Image: Adobe Stock

6. A GOP showdown over the debt limit could grip Congress and the nation next year

WASHINGTON — Republicans are eyeing the debt limit and government funding deadlines as a way to force Democrats to the negotiating table for spending cuts, should the GOP regain control of Congress following the midterm elections.

Republicans unhappy about government spending could move to shut down the government, a tactic unsuccessful for the GOP in past battles over Obamacare and the Trump border wall. Their potential refusal to adjust the debt limit could bring the nation to the verge of a damaging default, economic experts say.

[Read more…]

Photo: Klaus Vedfelt, Getty Images

7. Many NC school districts face funding shortages in serving students with special needs

Student exoduses to homeschools and private schools, combined with impacts of low salaries and inflation are leaving local school systems in a bind

The public school system in Chatham County in an “OK spot” financially to meet the needs of the more than 1,200 children it serves in its exceptional children program, says Amanda Moran, assistant superintendent for academic services and instructional support.

Those students in the exceptional children program make up roughly 13.5% of the district’s nearly 9,000 students. North Carolina caps funding for exceptional children programs at 13% of a district’s enrollment. So, with state funding and a generous Chatham County supplement to cover the difference, the school district can comfortably cover the cost of special education services for its children, Moran said.

[Read more…]

Photo by Gino Gutierrez

8. Millions of workers are dealing with long COVID. Advocates call for expanding social safety net.

Emily Withnall caught COVID-19 from her teenager in July 2020. In the more than two years since, the 40-year-old has suffered from debilitating fatigue, spinal pain and heart palpitations. In addition to her primary care doctor, she regularly sees a cardiologist and says her acupuncturist and craniosacral therapy help relieve her pain and the trouble she has focusing.

Although her condition is improving, Withnall said she still isn’t back to her pre-COVID-19 health and she’s had to ask her employer, New Mexico Highlands University, for accommodations, which include time off to go to her various medical appointments and the ability to work remotely. When she does commute, it takes her an hour to get to the office.

[Read more…]

9. Weekly Radio Interviews and daily Radio Commentaries:

Click here for the latest radio interviews and commentaries with Policy Watch Director Rob Schofield.



10. Weekly Editorial Cartoon:

NC democracy groups establish “election protection” hotlines

A Wake County early voting site – Photo: Clayton Henkel

With conservative activists and conspiracy theorists poised to engage in an array of voter suppression tactics in this year’s elections, North Carolina democracy groups have established the following points of contact for groups and individuals that run into voting problems.

Democracy North Carolina & Southern Coalition for Social Justice

1-888-OUR-VOTE is a nonpartisan election protection hotline. Callers may ask questions about how to register to vote and cast a ballot in North Carolina or report any voting problems.

Press contact: Joselle Torres at [email protected] at 919-908-7930


UnLock Our Vote Hotline

Forward Justice

1-877-880-8683 is a hotline for any community member that may have had involvement with the justice system and have questions about their right to vote. You can also email [email protected]

Press contact: Brittany Cheatham [email protected] 984-260-6632


Disability Election Protection

Disability Rights NC 

1-888-WEVOTE2 provides callers with access to DRNC staff with information to questions about how and where to access the vote. Where there are concerns about disability access, DRNC staff help resolve those to ensure that no one with disabilities is turned away from exercising their right to vote.

Press Contact: Corye Dunn at [email protected] and 919-619-1749


Latinx Language Election Protection


1-888-VE-Y-VOTA is the bilingual national hotline and provides Latino voters nationwide with vital information on every aspect of the electoral process, from registering to vote, to deciding between options to vote early, by mail, or on Election Day, and includes an easy-to-use voter registration tool. The hotline is staffed by live bilingual operators year-round, all trained to assist callers with any voting questions or issues.

Press contact: Maria Gonzalez at [email protected] and 910-308-5564


Asian American Election Protection

North Carolina Asian Americans Together

919-591-2442 is an election protection hotline that offers language assistance in the five most commonly spoken languages in the state – Hindi, Chinese, Urdu, Korean, and Vietnamese – along with several Southeast and South Asian, and Filipino languages, allowing us to offer over 20 different language options.

Press contact: Jimmy Patel-Nguyen at [email protected] and 919-335-6156