Civil rights groups renew calls to throw out districts

Posted October 5, 2012 3:12 p.m. EDT
Updated October 5, 2012 5:09 p.m. EDT

Voting map

— Civil rights groups said Friday that voters may have been assigned to the wrong state House and Senate districts due to an "overly greedy" effort to tilt district maps, an assertion elections official questions. 

In a package of motions and briefs filed with the court this week, the NAACP said 222 voters across the state cast ballots in one legislative May primary race when they should have been assigned to another.

"That's an effective disenfranchisement," said Anita Earls, a lawyer for a coalition of civil rights groups challenging the maps.

Republican lawmakers took control of both the state House and Senate following the 2010 elections. The majority shift meant the GOP had the power to remake legislative maps when new U.S. Census information was published in 2011. 

Two cases seeking to have state courts throw out the maps were filed in 2011. They have since been combined, and one issue, involving open records, is already on appeal to the state Supreme Court.

However the case turns out, voters will go to the polls using the current districts this year.

Republican lawmakers insist they closely followed state and federal laws in laying out the maps.

"I'm very confident that the plans than we drew are in compliance with the law," said Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, who helped lead the redistricting process. Lewis said he had not heard about anyone being assigned to the wrong legislative district.

"I'm confident that the people who reside withing the districts that were drawn will be the ones who vote in those districts," Lewis said. 

Earls contends that the new lines are needlessly complicated, drawn to pack minority voters in some districts while "bleaching" others. The idea, the NAACP claims in its legal briefs, is to break up coalitions of blacks and liberal white voters who work to elect Democrats.

Lewis said that's not the case. Throughout the lawsuit, lawyers for the state have asserted that federal laws forced them to ensure that many voting districts contained a majority African-American population.

"Race was only used to the extent that it was required by law in the federal Voting Rights Act," Lewis said. 

In court filings, the NAACP's lawyers contend that mapmakers split precincts in order to tightly box in minority populations. Of the 2,056 wrongly assigned voters they found in  Durham, Richmond, Robeson, Wake, Wayne and Wilson counties, 97 percent were in split precincts. 

Gary Simms, deputy director of the Wake County Board of Elections, say he knew of no such problems with Wake County's current voter rolls.

"The calls we get are not 'You've got me in the wrong district,' but rather, 'Can you help me figure out what district I'm in?'"  he said.

Simms said the State Board of Elections helped counties reassign voters to their new districts.

Gary Bartlett, director of the state board of elections, said the NAACP's court documents did not provide enough detail to say whether there is a problem or not. 

"We have not received the first complaint from a voter, candidate or party that a voter was given the wrong ballot in these races in the May primary," Bartlett said in an e-mail. "We have worked with the counties to assure the voters are correctly assigned."