Lawmakers Must Redraw Maps if Emergency Stay Not Granted
UPDATE: State seeks emergency stay from U.S. Supreme Court after federal court refuses request for stay ahead of March 15 primary.
State leaders are waiting to see if they will have to return to Raleigh for an emergency session next week to redraw the state’s congressional districts after federal judges overturned a state Supreme Court decision, ruling Friday that the state’s two majority black Congressional districts as unconstitutional.
The court found that the districts did not stand up to strict scrutiny under the law, saying that majority-minority districts were not necessary in North Carolina.
The state filed an emergency petition Monday afternoon, asking the court to stay the decision until after the primary election March 15.
If the state’s request is denied, House Speaker Rep. Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) said, Feb. 15 would be the likely date to open a special session for the purpose of redrawing and approving the new voting districts.
The federal ruling gives the state until Feb. 19 to have new districts in place.
The state is seeking the stay under the argument that to interrupt the election now, after more than 10,000 absentee ballots have been already requested, with about 700 of those already returned, would cause voter confusion and hurt the election process.
Since the ruling came down, the number of ballots requested has jumped from about 8,000 to 10,000, with more than 100 additional ballots being returned in that timeframe.
“We trust the federal trial court was not aware an election was already under way and surely did not intend to throw our state into chaos by nullifying ballots that have already been sent out and votes that have already been cast. We hope the court will realize the serious and far-reaching ramifications of its unprecedented, eleventh-hour action and immediately issue a stay,” said Sen. Bob Rucho (R-Mecklenburg) and Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett), in a statement.
Rucho and Lewis chaired the Senate and House redistricting committees, respectively.
The plaintiffs in the state had until midday today to respond to the state’s request before a judge will rule on the request.
The two districts in question are the 1st District and the 12th District.
The 1st, which is held by Rep. G.K. Butterfield, covers most of northeastern North Carolina but also stretches into Durham as well, while the 12th stretches from Charlotte to Greensboro along I-85 and is controlled by Rep. Alma Adams.
Both legislators are black Democrats.
The court ruling said that the state gerrymandered the districts based on race, opening the redistricting up to strict scrutiny by the court.
The state said that it was making majority-minority districts because of requirements under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The drawing of minority majority districts is based on Thornburg v. Gingles, a landmark US Supreme Court ruling.
But two judges on the panel rejected that argument, saying that “the defendants fail(ed) to show the third Gingles factor, that the legislature had a ‘strong basis in evidence’ of racially polarized voting in (Congressional District 1) significant enough that the white majority routinely votes as a bloc to defeat the minority candidate of choice,” meaning that a minority-majority district was not required.
“Because the plaintiffs have shown that race predominated in (Congressional District 1) and (Congressional District 12) on North Carolina’s 2011 Congressional Redistricting Plan, and because the defendants have failed to establish that this race-based redistricting satisfies strict scrutiny, the court finds that the 2-11 Congressional Redistricting Plan in unconstitutional, and will require the North Carolina General Assembly to draw a new congressional district plan,” the opinion, written by Circuit Judge Roger Gregory, said.
Gregory went on to say that he believed the state used Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act as a shield to pack the two districts, as opposed to a sword to fight for the rights of racial minorities.
Should the state’s request for a stay not be granted, then an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court would be the most likely next step.
Cost to hold another election about $9.5M
Jackie Hyland, public information officer for the State Board of Elections, said the estimated cost to hold an unanticipated primary is at least $9.5 million, but it would probably be more.
And that is just the cost to the individual county boards of elections. “That does not include state =-level costs,” she said.
Boards of elections across the state would have to secure locations for nearly 2,800 precincts, in addition to the material costs of holding another election for the Congressional districts.
Until a ruling comes out, the State Board of Elections is telling the counties to continue as usual and that the state will sort out what needs to be done.
“We are in a holding pattern right now,” Hyland said. “We are telling counties to continue issuing ballots.”