By Tyler Dukes
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North Carolina's Congressional District 12, currently represented by Greensboro Democrat Alma Adams, snakes up the Interstate 85 corridor and includes areas in Charlotte, the Triad and several cities in between. It was one of two districts federal judges found unconstitutional on Feb. 5, ruling they were drawn across racial lines.
Census estimates from 2014 show the district has a population of more than 778,000. About 51 percent of its residents are black, compared with about 22 percent for the state as a whole.
Even prior to redistricting by the Republican-led General Assembly in 2011 however, District 12's odd shape has been used by critics as a clear example of gerrymandering to capture certain demographics. But federal judges in Friday's ruling took careful note of the increase of the district's black voting age population from 43.8 percent to 50.7 percent in the most recent move to redistrict.
"Such a consistent and whopping increase makes it clear that the general assembly's predominant intent regarding district 12 was also race," Circuit Judge Roger Gregory wrote for the majority.
As of Feb. 5, 354 people in the district requested absentee ballots for the March 15 primary, according to the State Board of Elections.
Judges only invalidated two of the state's 13 districts, giving lawmakers two weeks to redraw them before a Feb. 19 deadline. That's less than a month before the state's March 15 primary.
But the problem is a cascading one — District 12 shares borders of varying sizes with five other Congressional districts covering the western part of North Carolina. Lawmakers won't have to redraw them all, but a few of them are likely to be affected by any change.
The multi-tentacled District 1, which looms over a largely rural portion of northeastern North Carolina, drew similar criticism from federal judges in the Feb. 5 ruling. It's home to more than 740,000 people, about 53 percent of whom are black. Judges note that although the district has been "an extraordinarily safe district for African-American preferred candidates of choice for over twenty years," the 2011 redistricting increased its black voting age population from 47.8 percent to 52.7 percent.
"This quota was used to assign voters to CD 1 based on the color of their skin," Circuit Judge Roger Gregory wrote for the majority, declaring that the lines violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
As of Feb. 5, 587 people had requested absentee ballots here, but Democrat Rep. G.K. Butterfield is running unopposed in the March 15 primary.
To an even greater extent than the 1st, the 12th congressional district's large reach and irregular shape means it borders nearly half of the state's districts.
Redrawing it could potentially impact the territories of Republicans Renee Ellmers, Walter Jones, Mark Walker, David Rouzer and George Holding, as well as Democrat David Price.
With the state now appealing for an emergency stay from federal courts, elections officials are still urging voters to complete and return any outstanding absentee ballots. But absent that stay, state lawmakers will return to Raleigh next week to vote on the redrawn maps.
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Absentee ballots requested:
(As of Feb. 5)
White: % // Black: %
Hispanic: % // Not Hispanic: %
Source: 2014 American Community Survey, State Board of Elections