District 2 Charlotte City Council representative Malcolm Graham provided updates Monday morning on where the city’s Redistricting Committee stands in redrawing city council districts in Charlotte.
Graham, who chairs the Redistricting Committee, took questions from media and discussed how the redistricting process will work, along with whether any seats will be added, as has been discussed by other council members in recent weeks.
Graham addressed suggestions that Charlotte City Council take advantage of the new redistricting plans to add an eighth district. Republican district rep Tariq Bokhari has suggested that the committee replace one at-large seat with a new district representative, while Democratic at-large rep Braxton Winston suggested council keep its at-large seats and simply add an eighth district, increasing the total number of council seats to 12.
At Monday morning’s press conference, Graham said no such plans are currently in the works.
“The goal and the objective of the committee is to follow the charge as presented by the mayor and council,” Graham said. “Adding an eighth additional district or deleting an at-large one to accomplish that was not embedded in the charge we were given by the mayor and the council. So the redistricting committee will not be going in that direction unless otherwise authorized by the mayor or council.”
Why redistricting is needed for Charlotte City Council
By state law, municipal government districts must have substantially equal populations. With the rapid growth Charlotte has seen in the 10 years since council districts were last drawn, the districts are believed to have become grossly disproportionate.
Because holding an election under such circumstances could lead to legal obstacles, the city would need to redraw districts before holding its 2020 municipal elections. When it became clear early in 2021 that data from the 2020 U.S. Census would not be available in March as it typically is, council members and city staff began discussing the potential for delaying this year’s elections. On June 28, council made that decision official, pushing back municipal primaries to March 8, 2022, and the general election to April 26, 2022.
Mayor Vi Lyles then formed the Redistricting Committee, consisting of council members Graham, Dimple Ajmera, Greg Phipps and Ed Driggs. The committee was charged with developing redistricting recommendations guided by seven principles, three of which were to be prioritized as “first order principles”:
- Districts must have substantially equal population – one person/one vote rule. (required)
- Districts should be reasonably compact. (strongly recommended)
- District boundaries may follow neighborhood boundaries or the boundaries of areas containing residents sharing similar interests.
The four “second order principles” were listed as follows:
- District boundaries may follow precinct boundaries.
- District boundaries may be drawn considering the race of district residents as long as race is not the predominant motivating factor.
- Districts most likely to be impacted by future annexations (or growth rates) may be smaller to minimize impact of future annexations on future redistricting.
- District boundaries may be drawn to avoid contests between incumbents.
According to the 2020 Census data, Charlotte’s total population is 879,188. Divided into seven council districts, each one should equal about 125,598 people per district. Currently, according to Graham, six out of seven district populations are substantially out of balance and do not come close to that number.
How politics play into the process
The city has brought on Parker Poe law firm to take a consulting role in developing the maps. At Monday’s press conference, Parker Poe partner Mac McCarley said population and political affiliation of residents within a given district would be the most analyzed aspects of any potential map.
“The main thing we look at is total population; that’s the constitutional requirement,” McCarley said. “But in a partisan election system like this one where people are elected by party, the candidates and the public and the two political parties are going to want to know what the political makeup of each precinct and each district is in any final maps that are considered.”
Graham noted that he isn’t yet sure how the new Census data will affect the political makeup of the newly drawn districts. There are currently five Democratic district reps (districts 1-5) and two Republican district reps (districts 6-7), while all four at-large reps are Democrats.
“There’s no predetermination what District 2 is going to look like, there’s no predetermination what District 6 is going to look like,” Graham said. “We view the results when they come in, and we’re going to talk to all of our district council members to talk specifically about things that are important to them, and then we’ll sit down and draw the maps accordingly.
“It would be great to have a partisan balance, I think that would be really important. The goal is not to have [nine Democrats and two Republicans], the goal is to draw the map according to the data,” he continued. “Just by knowing the numbers as I do, there’s certain to be a Republican district. District 7 doesn’t have to have any changes at all. That’s right at 124,000 [people]. District 6 will probably be a toss-up based on the numbers. But that has to be borne out by the facts and the data, so that’s what we’re going to allow Mr. McCarley to do.”
The timeline for Charlotte City Council redistricting and elections
The Redistricting Committee has met twice thus far, and it’s next scheduled meeting is on Sept. 20. All of its meetings are open to the public and can be viewed virtually.
Sept. 30 marks the deadline for the U.S. Census Bureau to provide any additional census data it has not yet given to the city. The city will then hold a public engagement session to solicit community feedback about the redistricting process on Oct. 5. You can sign up to speak there or at a public forum on Oct. 18 at the Redistricting Committee website.
Graham expects three or four potential maps will be presented for public consideration by the time of that meeting.
McCarley said his firm will approach the redistricting process first by drawing a “least-changed map,” which will keep the districts as close to what they currently are as possible while still making the changes needed to bring them closer to 125,598 residents.
“We will always present a least-changed map, and we’ll present any other maps that the committee tells us the parameters they’d like to see a map drawn by,” McCarley said. “My guess is by the time this is over the committee will have looked at five to 10 different variations of maps. It will be up to the committee to decide which one of those or which several of those to put in front of the full council for decision.”
The redistricting and election timeline:
Oct. 5: Public engagement session for community feedback.
Oct. 18: Public hearing at Charlotte City Council zoning meeting
Nov. 8: Presentation of district recommendations at Charlotte City Council review/business meeting.
Nov. 17: Deadline to report new district boundaries to the Mecklenburg County Board of Elections.
Dec. 6-17: Filing period for delayed municipal elections.
March 8, 2022: Municipal primary
April 26, 2022: General municipal elections
If the city does not provide a redistricting plan by Nov. 17, the new deadline becomes Dec. 17, and the opening date for candidates to file moves to Jan. 3, 2022.