The last time Republicans held the majority in the N.C. Senate, William McKinley was president and Wilmington was the state’s biggest city.
This year, Republicans might regain the majority, which Democrats have held since 1898, and control the process of re-drawing the state’s voting districts — a power that could give them the political advantage for the next 10 years.
“It’s a huge opportunity for whoever is in power,” said Bob Hall, executive director for Democracy NC. “It’s one of the reasons this election is so hotly contested.”
Every 10 years, following the U.S. Census, the N.C. General Assembly re-draws district lines according to the census’ new population numbers. In doing so, the ruling party can draw the lines in ways that make it difficult for the opposing party to win seats, Hall said.
The U.S. Supreme Court has not struck down redistricting for partisan purposes, often called gerrymandering.
“As we’ve seen with gerrymandering, whoever draws the lines sets who gets elected for the next 10 years,” said Chris Hayes, senior legislative analyst for the political think tank John W. Pope Civitas Institute. “This is the best chance Republicans have had in decades, and it’s looking highly likely.”
Population growth statewide in the last decade has been focused around urban areas, especially Raleigh and Charlotte, Hayes said.
That means the redistricting might cause these urban areas to gain seats while the state’s rural areas could lose them.
The battle for seats in the state legislature and control of the redistricting process tightened this year with a rising Republican tide nationwide and controversies surrounding several incumbent Democrats in the southeastern part of the state, Hayes said.
The N.C. Republican Party had approximately $100,000 more on hand than the Democratic Party in June, which could boost GOP candidates’ election prospects.
“North Carolina is reflecting what the nation is reflecting,” said Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, D-Orange. “There’s a great deal of uncertainty people have toward who’s representing them.”
Earlier this month, Raleigh-based Public Policy Polling found that voters plan to vote Republican in the elections by a 49 to 41 percent margin.
To earn the majority, Republicans will need to win six seats they currently don’t have now, said Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake.
“That’s a really tough task,” Stein said. “But there’s no question they feel better about their chances than they have felt in a very long time.”
For Democrats to maintain the majority, they’ll need the support of young voters, like UNC students, to show up to the polls, Kinnaird said.
“The polls show that the 18-26 year old vote that was so active in the 2008 election isn’t as interested this time,” she said. “That concerns us.”
But on campus, awareness of the state and local elections isn’t as high as in 2008, said UNC senior Luxman Srikantha.
“It’s died down. I haven’t seen any of that this year.”
This article was originally published in the Daily Tarheel on September 16, 2010.