5 things to know about redistricting in Charlotte

5 things to know about redistricting in Charlotte

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

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Charlotte City Council will soon redraw the maps that determine political representation in the city.

Why it matters: With the release of the once-in-a-decade census data, cities and states across the country are starting the redistricting process.

Charlotte’s population grew by 21% from 2010 to 2020, with growth concentrated in some parts of the city more than others. But the boundaries for city council districts have stayed the same.

  • The redrawing of the districts is intended to address those imbalances in political representation.

Here are five things you should know about redistricting in Charlotte:

1. Why the districts need to be redrawn

Context: There are 11 seats on Charlotte City Council: Four at-large and seven district representatives. The city says each of the seven districts should be home to about 125,000 people.

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Just one — the seventh, represented by Republican Ed Driggs — is that size. The others are “substantially out of balance,” Patrick Baker, city attorney, told reporters at a briefing last week.

  • Districts 1, 5 and 6 — including parts of uptown, north, east and south Charlotte — have fewer than 125,000 people. They are represented by council members Larken Egleston, Matt Newton and Tariq Bokhari respectively.
  • Districts 2, 3 and 4 — in north and west Charlotte — are larger. They are represented by council members Malcolm Graham, Victoria Watlington and Reneé Johnson.

Current Charlotte City Council districts. Map courtesy of the city of Charlotte.

2. The political controversy

What they’re saying: In a blue city with a dwindling number of elected Republicans, the focus is on whether the GOP will keep both of its seats on council, specifically Bokhari’s District 6.

Council Member Graham, chairperson of the special redistricting committee, said in the last week’s media briefing that he expects District 6 to be a tossup.

That committee, made up of Democrats Graham, Dimple Ajmera, Greg Phipps and Republican Driggs, voted not to make partisan balance a consideration in redrawing the districts. Driggs was not present for the vote.

  • “The goal is not to have 9-2,” Graham said. “The goal is to draw the city and the map according to the data.”

Yes, but: That decision irked some local Republicans. Bokhari took to Twitter and said he’s concerned that without trying to achieve political balance, Republican votes will be suppressed.

3. How the districts will be drawn

How it works: There are three main criteria for the council to consider: Districts should have roughly the same number of people, be reasonably compact and can follow the boundaries of neighborhoods or areas whose residents have similar interests.

The city can consider race, but it can’t be the motivating factor.

  • That’s especially important given the history of voter suppression in the South.

Between the lines: Districts can also follow voting precinct boundaries, be drawn to prevent elections between incumbents and be made smaller to accommodate future annexation.

4. Debate over adding a seat

With the increase in Charlotte’s population, should the number of elected officials grow too?

Some leaders say yes.

Driving the news: Bokhari suggested on Twitter that the city drop an at-large seat on council and replace it with a new district seat.

  • In response to his tweet, Democratic Council Member Braxton Winston proposed the city add a district seat without removing an at-large one to increase representation.
  • Their debate unfolded over whether to give Republicans and unaffiliated voters more representation on council.

The bottom line: When asked about the possibility of adding or removing a seat, Graham said the committee will not pursue that unless it is authorized by the mayor or city council.

5. The process

The redistricting process will take place over the next few months ahead of the spring elections.

Public input: The public can give feedback on the proposed maps to the redistricting committee on Oct. 5, and to the full council on Oct. 18.

On Nov. 8, City Council will vote on the maps. The city’s deadline to provide the maps to the local board of elections is Nov. 17, and if it doesn’t meet that deadline, the date for candidates to file will be pushed to January.

City council elections are typically held in odd-numbered years, but because the release of the census data was delayed, council voted to move them to the spring.

  • The primary election is on March 8, and the general on April 26.

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