Charlotte’s city council is bluer than its population. Redistricting could fix that.

·3 min read

Now that the 2020 Census data has been released, the redistricting process is well underway in Charlotte. Due to explosive population growth in certain parts of the city over the past decade, district populations are currently out of balance — violating the “one person, one vote” principle that guides the process. The Charlotte City Council must redraw the maps to accommodate past and future growth.

Still, redistricting is notoriously political, and not everyone is on the same page. Accusations of gerrymandering have flown. One council member, Braxton Winston, called the process a “hypocritical farce” on Twitter. But the biggest source of disagreement boils down to party representation.

The City Council, which has 11 members, has representatives from seven voting districts, plus four at-large seats. Currently, just two of the 11 seats are held by Republicans. That’s not very reflective of the city’s demographics. Of the registered voters in Charlotte, about 18% are registered Republicans, 46% are listed as Democrats and 35% are unaffiliated.

As a Nov. 8 vote on district maps nears, council members have differing priorities. Some, such as Malcolm Graham, a Democrat from District 2 who chairs the special redistricting committee, seem to want the maps to remain mostly the same. That doesn’t mean decreasing the amount of Republican representation on the council, but it doesn’t mean increasing it, either.

“We wanted to make sure that we drew maps that represented how the county is proportioned, and make sure that there’s dual representation from both parties. And so we wanted to draw maps that kept the status quo in place, that there was representation from the minority party,” Graham said.

But while Graham is aiming to maintain the status quo, other members want to disrupt it. Tariq Bokhari, a District 6 Republican, says that in a perfect world, the city would get rid of three at-large seats and draw three new districts, for a total of 10 districts. Given the current configuration, it’s nearly impossible to have more than two Republicans on the council, Bokhari said.

“What we’re giving up, by having four at-large seats, is not only the coverage at a district level, which is the most important thing we do,” Bokhari told the Editorial Board. “But it’s also that Democrats will dominate all four of those. But if you had 10 districts, you could divide them up where you can make two solid Republican seats. And maybe two, even three, toss-up seats.”

Winston, an at-large Democrat, also wants to change the current map, although for different reasons. Winston has proposed his own set of maps, which “disrupt the crescent and wedge nature” of the districts as part of a “duty to desegregate the city.”

Council members say adding a district is a complicated process that’s not practical in such a limited time frame, but we’re not certain that’s a good enough reason to dismiss it. Graham said there are a number of “legislative hurdles” that must clear in order to add another district. But Pat Ryan, a spokesperson for N.C. Senate Leader Phil Berger, told the Editorial Board there aren’t any hurdles at the state level, and the council does have the authority to change or add a district if it wishes.

We’ve said before that one-party rule isn’t good for anyone, even in a city as seemingly blue as Charlotte. Supermajorities reduce accountability, regardless of which party is in power, and dissenting voices help create fairer policies that work for everyone. When five council seats come from solid blue districts and four are voted on by the city at large, it’s hard to conjure up a scenario where Democrats don’t hold an overwhelming and perhaps disproportionate majority on the Charlotte City Council.

We’re glad to see that the council wants to maintain two-party representation, but keeping the status quo isn’t the best way to represent all of Charlotte. If there are ways to make representation more reflective of the city’s population, the redistricting committee — and the full council — should strongly consider them.

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