RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina Republicans lost enough seats during the November elections to end their veto-proof control in the state House and Senate, but still retained the majorities they've held since 2011.
They were helped by a structural advantage due in large part to how district boundaries have been drawn this decade, a process the Republicans controlled. It likely helped them avoid a worse outcome.
An Associated Press analysis of election results using a test favored by redistricting reform advocates but criticized by Republicans attempts to describe that advantage. It shows Republicans won at least six more state House seats than would be expected based on vote shares for candidates of the two major parties in all 120 races in November.
Democratic candidates on average received 51 percent of the two-party vote for state House seats while Republicans received 49 percent, and yet Democratic candidates won just 46 percent of the House seats. The AP did not analyze state Senate seats because voters in many states don't elect all of their senators at once.
Republicans have a 65-55 seat advantage in the chamber. With six additional seats, Democrats could have won the majority for the first time since 2010. The North Carolina House is one of as many as seven state legislative chambers around the country that could have flipped to Democrats, according to the AP analysis. An analysis of 2016 races under somewhat different House seats found a similar six-seat benefit for the GOP.
The "efficiency gap" calculation is featured prominently in a U.S. Supreme Court case being heard by the justices next week involving North Carolina's congressional districts.
A lower court last year twice struck down North Carolina's U.S. House map as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander favoring Republicans. The AP's analysis found Republicans won two or three more congressional seats than would have been expected based on their share of the vote.
Republican congressional candidates received 51 percent of the two-party vote compared to Democrats' 49 percent. Yet Republicans won a 9-3 seat advantage over Democrats, with one seat still undecided because of allegations of vote fraud.
Attorneys for the Durham-based Southern Coalition for Social Justice are representing the League of Women Voters in the congressional district case. Coalition Executive Director Kareem Crayton said he's not surprised the analysis found Republicans benefiting from the state House districts. Crayton said GOP legislators ignored the public's pleas to avoid districts that split communities.
"These maps are supposed to reflect what the voters wanted and not what the elected leadership wanted to draw as a way to entrench themselves," he said.
State Rep. David Lewis, a defendant in the congressional case, said Thursday that the efficiency gap is flawed because it presupposes that representatives are elected through an at-large system. It also fails to take into account that Democratic voters are concentrated in urban areas, where their candidates win by wide margins, and that Republicans are more evenly distributed, Lewis' attorneys told the justices in a brief.
The "test has a built-in bias that causes it to condemn Republican gerrymanders as impermissible more readily than Democratic gerrymanders," the lawyers wrote.
The state House map has been adjusted twice since it was first approved in 2011. A federal court declared nearly 30 House and Senate districts unconstitutional due to unnecessary racial bias. House Republicans altered them in 2017, and judges made some small changes in early 2018.
The current House and Senate maps now are subject to a partisan gerrymandering lawsuit in state court, but the plaintiffs aren't focusing on the efficiency gap.