Raleigh, N.C. — Members of the Wake County Board of Elections will meet Thursday to sort through a 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision that threw out newly drawn districts for the county commissioners and school board.
"I hate not having an answer," said Gary Sims, director of the county elections board.
Until the board meets, Sims said, candidates and constituents alike will be left to wonder how those two sets of local offices will be handled. Voters will make decisions on the contest for president, Congress, state legislature and other races during the Nov. 8 general election.
Before 2013, the Wake County school board was carved into nine districts, while the Board of Commissioners was drawn from seven districts. In 2013, lawmakers decided to redraw the school board into seven local districts and two regional districts – a compact region centered over Raleigh and a "doughnut" district that took in areas mostly outside of Raleigh. In 2015, lawmakers adopted the same district plan for the commissioners over protests from local officials who said the move was unnecessary and motivated by partisanship.
While a federal district court upheld the legality of those districts earlier this year, the appellate court disagreed and said, whatever the county does, it could not use the new maps.
The Wake County Board of Elections is the defendant in the case and will have to decide whether to appeal the decision or propose a way to comply. Board members didn't advocate for one plan over another, but rather just told the court they needed know if the districts were legal to use or not.
The easiest course of action might be reverting back to the old district lines drawn by the commissioners and school board themselves before lawmakers intervened. But it's unclear if the county would have time to open a new filing period and hold a new primary for commissioners before the general election. The board has to begin mailing absentee ballots on Sept. 9.
"Normally, right now, we are full speed ahead getting ready for November," Sims said.
That leaves candidates for commissioner and school board seats betwixt and between.
"We will proceed with the campaign until we find out we shouldn't be," said John Adcock, the Republican nominee in Wake County Commissioner District B, the doughnut district. "It's a big county, and we've been working mighty hard."
If candidates like Adcock are told that they will have to run in a new primary, it won't be the first time that's happened this year. In the spring, a federal court threw out districts drawn for Congress. While those races were on the March 15 ballot, those spring results were ignored, and the state held a new congressional primary in June.