Raleigh, N.C. — A federal judge has rejected challenges to how North Carolina lawmakers redrew the maps for Wake County school board and county commissioners races.
"In sum, plaintiffs have failed to prove that either the 2013 Wake County School Board Plan or the 2015 Wake County Commissioners Plan violates the one person one vote requirement in the United States and North Carolina constitutions," U.S. District Judge James Dever wrote at the end of a 108-page order he signed Friday. "Plaintiffs also have failed to prove that the 2015 General Assembly racially gerrymandered District 4 in the 2015 Wake County Commissioners Plan."
The challenge to the districts was brought by the Raleigh Wake Citizens Association, an organization that promotes the interest of black voters in Wake County, as well as individual plaintiffs.
"We are reviewing the ruling with our clients. We’ll have an announcement regarding the appeal soon," said Anita Earls, a lawyer for the RWCA.
In court, they argued that the new maps illegally packed black voters into one of the districts. They also asserted that the districts were drawn in such a way to impermissibly cut down the voting strength of Democratic voters.
Lawyers for the Wake County Board of Elections, which defended the plan in lieu of lawmakers, argued that legislators were allowed to draw maps for partisan advantage.
The Wake County Board of Education is a putatively nonpartisan group of elected officials who manage the school system. But clashes over school funding, neighborhood schools and other issues have lent school board races a distinctly partisan tinge in recent years. The legislative redraw came shortly after a majority backed by the Democratic Party turned several conservative Republicans out of office.
Then, in 2014, Democrats swept elections for Wake County Board of Commissioners seats. The following year, lawmakers voted to apply the new school board lines to the board of commissioners.
Opponents of the plan say the new lines are drawn to give Republicans a better chance of taking majorities on both the school board and Board of Commissioners. The new plan scraps a seven-seat system in favor of nine-member boards. Seven members would be elected in districts, while two would come from large regional districts – one centered on Raleigh and Cary and the other looping around the county's perimeter that takes in more rural areas and small towns.
The first elections in the new districts are scheduled to take place this year. Voters in District B, the rural regional district, will have a say in Republican and Democratic primaries for the Board of Commissioners on March 15.