Mansfield’s district is emblematic of how the redistricting process has changed the political complexion of North Carolina, as Republicans attempt to turn this racially integrated swing state into a GOP bastion, with white Republicans in the majority and black Democrats in the minority for the next decade. “We’re having the same conversations we had forty years ago in the South, that black people can only represent black people and white people can only represent white people,” says Mansfield. “I’d hope that in 2012 we’d have grown better than that.” Before this year, for example, there were no Senate districts with a BVAP of 50 percent or higher. Now there are nine. A lawsuit filed by the NAACP and other advocacy groups calls the redistricting maps “an intentional and cynical use of race that exceeds what is required to ensure fairness to previously disenfranchised racial minority voters.”
And it’s not just happening in North Carolina. In virtually every state in the South, at the Congressional and state level, Republicans—to protect and expand their gains in 2010—have increased the number of minority voters in majority-minority districts represented overwhelmingly by black Democrats while diluting the minority vote in swing or crossover districts held by white Democrats. “What’s uniform across the South is that Republicans are using race as a central basis in drawing districts for partisan advantage,” says Anita Earls, a prominent civil rights lawyer and executive director of the Durham-based Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “The bigger picture is to ultimately make the Democratic Party in the South be represented only by people of color.” The GOP’s long-term goal is to enshrine a system of racially polarized voting that will make it harder for Democrats to win races on local, state, federal and presidential levels. Four years after the election of Barack Obama, which offered the promise of a new day of postracial politics in states like North Carolina, Republicans are once again employing a Southern Strategy that would make Richard Nixon and Lee Atwater proud.
The consequences of redistricting in North Carolina—one of the most important swing states in the country—could determine who controls Congress and the presidency in 2012. Democrats hold seven of the state’s thirteen Congressional seats, but after redistricting they could control only three—the largest shift for Republicans at the Congressional level in any state this year. Though Obama won eight of the thirteen districts, under the new maps his vote would be contained in only three heavily Democratic districts—all of which would have voted 68 percent or higher for the president in 2008—while the rest of the districts would have favored John McCain by 55 percent or more. “GOP candidates could win just over half of the statewide vote for Congress and end up with 62 percent to 77 percent of the seats,” found John Hood, president of the conservative John Locke Foundation.
The same holds true at the state level, where only 10 percent of state legislative races can be considered a tossup. “If these maps hold, Republicans have a solid majority plus a cushion in the North Carolina House and Senate,” says J. Michael Bitzer, a professor of political science at Catawba College. “They don’t even need to win the swing districts.” North Carolina is now a political paradox: a presidential swing state with few swing districts. Republicans have turned what Bitzer calls an “aberration”—the Tea Party wave of 2010—“into the norm.”
Republicans accomplished this remarkable feat by drawing half the state’s black population of 2.2 million people, who vote overwhelmingly for Democrats, into a fifth of all legislative and Congressional districts. As a result, black voters are twice as likely as white voters to see their communities divided. “The new North Carolina legislative lines take the cake for the most grotesquely drawn districts I’ve ever seen,” says Jeff Wice, a Democratic redistricting lawyer in Washington...