Federal Court Orders New Election in 2017 for 28 North Carolina State Districts

There was an interesting development in North Carolina this afternoon that didn’t have anything to do with the recount in the governor’s race. From the Raleigh News & Observer:

A federal court on Tuesday ordered North Carolina to hold a special legislative election next year after 28 state House and Senate districts are redrawn to comply with a gerrymandering ruling.

U.S. District Court judges earlier this year threw out the current legislative district map, ruling that 28 of them were unconstitutional racial gerrymanders. They allowed the 2016 election to continue under the old maps, but ordered legislators to draw new districts in 2017.

Tuesday’s order settled the question of whether the new districts would take effect for the regularly scheduled 2018 election cycle, or if a special election would be required.

“While special elections have costs, those costs pale in comparison to the injury caused by allowing citizens to continue to be represented by legislators elected pursuant to a racial gerrymander,” the three-judge panel wrote in the order.

“The court recognizes that special elections typically do not have the same level of voter turnout as regularly scheduled elections, but it appears that a special election here could be held at the same time as many municipal elections, which should increase turnout and reduce costs.”

The order gives legislators a March 15 deadline to draw new district maps. Every legislator whose district is altered will have their current term shortened.

A primary would be held in late August or early September – the legislature is responsible for setting the exact date – with the general election in November, the order says.

This is the latest in a series of court rulings on voting laws and practices in the state, going back to last summer when the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the state’s voter ID law. In its ruling, the court concluded, “the new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision,” and called it, “the most restrictive voting law North Carolina has seen since the era of Jim Crow.”
This means that there will be three states with statewide legislative races next year (the other two being New Jersey and Virginia, which are also having gubernatorial elections), though in the case of North Carolina it will only be the 28 gerrymandered districts affected by the ruling. According to the News & Observer, Republicans currently have a 74-seat supermajority in the House and a 35-seat supermajority in the Senate.
Here is the response to the ruling from the North Carolina General Assembly, relayed via the North Carolina Republican Party:

The North Carolina Democratic Party’s response:

UPDATE: I received this statement on Wednesday from DLCC executive director Jessica Post and DLCC board member Larry Hall:

“North Carolinians deserve fair representation in their state government, and Republicans’ illegal racial gerrymander made that impossible,” said Post. “We are thrilled for the voters of the Tarheel State that these maps are being redrawn. The GOP’s illegal redistricting was the first in a series of extreme right-wing overreaches that ultimately led to heinous policies like HB2 and the racially-motivated voter disenfranchisement law struck down by the courts earlier this year. The redrawing of the maps and subsequent elections will be the first steps in undoing the damage Republicans have spent the past six years inflicting on the state.

“We look forward to working with North Carolina legislators and leaders, including DLCC Board Member and Democratic House Leader Larry Hall, as this situation continues to evolve on the ground.”

Author: David de Sola

Editor/Publisher Political Wilderness

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