By Michael Bitzer
As the U.S. Census Bureau gets ready to release the data for redistricting activities in the states, a sense of what the "ground" in North Carolina politics looks like going into the "most political activity in American politics" would shine some light on the future maps and their designs.
North Carolina redistricting efforts are centered around a core set of principles, often referred to as the Stephenson criteria. Written by then Chief Justice I. Beverly Lake of the NC Supreme Court (a summary of the full criteria can be found in his majority opinion, starting on page 42), one of the key components is the "whole county" provision of the state constitution, which holds that for both state senate and house districts, "No county shall be divided in the formation..." of districts (Sections 3 & 5, sub-section 3 of Article II).
Therefore, when legislators begin their work, they will start with counties that can sustain legislative districts within themselves, and then work towards "clustering" other counties to develop districts as well (a good explanation of this principle is found here).
But beyond the counties, one can dive even deeper into political geography through precincts (or voting tabulation districts ("VTDs")), which are the foundational geographic areas for election administration and where voters (who vote on Election Day) go to a central site to cast their ballots.