Now that North Carolina has the 2010 Census data in hand the state legislature will start to tackle redistricting to create new district maps that reflect the state’s shifting, and growing, population.
The redistricting process is not simple and map drawers will have to follow numerous federal and state guidelines to ensure districts meet population equality standards, comply with the federal Voting Rights Act, and conform to North Carolina’s “whole county provision,” which means that in state legislative districts counties must not be divided to the extent possible. Needless to say, it’s not an easy task.
Once these new lines are drawn and approved, the N.C. Senate will look much different than it did during the past decade. With the state’s updated population total of 9,535,483 the ideal size of each of the 50 Senate districts will now be 190,710 people. Compare that with 2000 when the largest Senate district held less than 169,000 people. The state requires that each district be within plus or minus five percent of the ideal population.
As expected, the largest growth areas were centered around Charlotte and Raleigh inside the counties of Mecklenburg, Union and Wake. Both Wake and Mecklenburg look to gain a Senate seat during redistricting. District 35, located primarily in Union County but with some of Mecklenburg as well, was the fastest growing district with a growth rate of 56.5 percent since 2000.
One Senate district actually lost population over the past decade, District 21 in Cumberland County. The 21st district saw a net loss of 3,464 people between 2000 and 2010. District 4 in the northeast has the smallest population at 163,184 and will need 27,526 more people to meet the ideal population size. In contrast, the largest district is 35 in Union County, which will have to shed more than 58,000 people to reach the ideal population.
In practical terms, this means that urban/suburban Senate districts are going to get a lot smaller in area, while rural districts will end up being much larger after redistricting.