A North Carolina state senate district recently sprouted a mysterious new appendage that just happens to encompass a lawmaker’s second home. The extension, and the bipartisan approval it won in the GOP-led state legislature, is a classic example of the backroom dealing that happens when lawmakers are allowed to draw their own legislative boundaries. A little background: North Carolina Republicans redrew all of the state’s legislative maps in 2011, following the 2010 Census. Democrats immediately cried foul, contending that the maps were drawn with the express purpose of solidifying Republicans’ hold on power in the state.
Technically speaking, the term for this is gerrymandering — deliberately drawing legislative districts in a way that benefits your party (if you need a brief visual primer on how it works, read this). In North Carolina, the specific issue is racial gerrymandering, as Democrats have alleged Republicans intentionally diluted the political clout of black voters when they drew the maps.
Courts, by and large, have agreed. Earlier this year, a panel of federal judges tossed out the 2011 maps and told the legislature to draw new ones by Sept. 1. Lawmakers recently wrapped up their new district plans and are submitting them to the judges for approval. Critics say the new plans are just as racially gerrymandered, in their own way, as the old maps.