A federal court has given the state until mid-March to redraw 28 state House and Senate districts that it ruled unconstitutional in August, calling the districts illegal racial gerrymanders.
Because the ruling was so close to the election, the contests for the 19 House districts and nine Senate districts were allowed to move forward as planned, but now a new election has been ordered for the fall of 2017 as part of the order giving the state a deadline for its redistricting.
“While special elections have costs, those pale in comparison to the injury caused by allowing citizens to continue to be represented by legislators elected pursuant to a racial gerrymander,” the ruling said.
The court intends that the special election will coincide with municipal elections, to increase voter turnout and reduce costs.
In a statement, Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett) and Sen. Bob Rucho (R-Meckleburg), who chair the redistricting committees in their respective chambers, said in a statement: “This politically motivated decision, which would effectively undo the will of millions of North Carolinians just days after they cast their ballots, is a gross overreach that blatantly disregards the constitutional guarantee for voters to duly elect their legislators to biennial terms. We continue to believe the maps drawn by the General Assembly, precleared by the Obama Justice Department and twice upheld by our state’s elected Supreme Court, are constitutional, and we will move quickly to appeal.”
The U.S. District Court for the Middle District gave the state until March 15, 2017 to approve new districts, with the penalty being that the plaintiffs in the case will be allowed to file their own plan for districts by March 17 if the state misses the deadline.
The plaintiffs, backed by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, originally asked that the state be forced to draw new districts by Jan. 25, 2017. The state had asked that the legislators for the 28 districts be allowed to serve until 2018.
The court denied that request. The state then asked that the deadline be in May.
The court rejected the state’s timeline as not giving enough time for the plaintiffs and court to review the new maps before an election and named the March date.
In the ruling, the court rejected the state’s argument that two weeks into session would not be enough time to draw new districts, saying that nothing stopped the state from beginning work on new maps in August, though the state is seeking an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court.
The March timeline will give the new legislature about six weeks to complete the new maps.
The order recognizes that the redraw of 28 districts affects more than just those districts, saying that the state will hold elections “for the purpose of electing new legislators in these districts and such other districts which are redrawn.”