Technical data

The difficulties of securing “one person, one vote”


The North Carolina General Assembly passed new legislative maps on November 6, and there is already a lawsuit against them. Why are we redistributing, what role does the census play, and how is Carolina Demography educating people about the process?

Every 10 years, states create new legislative boundaries with brand new decennial census data to ensure there are an equal number of people in each region. North Carolina has a turbulent past with legislative maps. The state court waived North Carolina’s legislative districts in 2019, ruling partisan gerrymandering violated the state’s constitution. These maps had already been redrawn in 2016 when previous maps unconstitutionally used race to determine district boundaries.

On November 5, a Republican-led State House and Senate adopted new voting districts with four Congressional districts, 50 State Senate districts, and 120 State House districts. The next day, a group of voters filed a complaint contesting the latest legislative cards.

Redistribution is a complicated process where lawmakers must take into account population growth, demographics and geographic lines.

This is the new district map approved by the North Carolina House of Representatives. (photo courtesy of the CN General Assembly)

“The biggest problem with the redistribution is to ensure the equality of the population between the districts,” said Carolina director of demography, Rebecca Tippett. “Population growth is uneven. For example, urban areas in our state have grown faster than rural areas. This jeopardizes the “one person, one voice” principle.

This is why redistribution occurs when census data is released. The census is an official source of demographic data that regulators use to ensure that all regions have an equal voice. Balancing densely populated urban areas and dispersed rural areas is a challenge that lawmakers face in this process.

Tippett calls the census “the building blocks of redistribution.” This is one of the reasons why it is imperative to participate in the census. An inaccurate population count could lead to unequal legislative constituencies.

In North Carolina, there are 120 State House, 50 State Senate, and 14 US Congressional Districts. Each set of districts has an “ideal size” determined by the state’s population – 10,439,388, divided by the number of districts. The population of the State House and Senate districts can vary 5% above or below this ideal size.

Rebecca tippett
Rebecca Tippett (photo courtesy of Carolina Demography)

While the general population is the most important fact to consider when redistributing, some have discussed the need to keep counties as whole as possible. Tippett says “communities of interest” are taken into account when creating legislative districts and that counties are one way of determining them.

“Communities of interest are, quite simply, a group of people who share a common interest. This common interest can lead to similar legislative concerns, i.e. they benefit from the possibility of having a shared representation and not having their representation fragmented.

Tippett says that Carolina Demography, housed at the Carolina Population Center, is primarily aimed at educating people about the redistribution process, from the census and the creation of districts to the data and technical aspects of the process. After all, constituencies are a fundamental part of our elections which can seem mysterious behind the blackout curtains of the political machinery.

“The district you are in determines which candidates you vote for,” says Tippet. “And, depending on how that district is drawn, that can determine the likelihood that you can elect a candidate who matches your preferences.”

Rebecca Tippett is the Director of Carolina Demography at the UNC Carolina Population Center.