Judges to decide which map to use for Wake House districts

Posted April 6, 2018 5:36 p.m. EDT
Updated April 6, 2018 6:52 p.m. EDT

— Although absentee ballots are already in the mail and early voting for the May primary starts in less than two weeks, a three-judge panel is weighing whether four House districts in Wake County are legal.

Last year, state lawmakers redrew House and Senate districts after federal courts found some of the districts in their 2011 maps to be racial gerrymanders. Instead of just fixing the unconstitutional districts, however, they also redrew the lines for a number of other districts, including House districts 36, 37, 40 and 41 in Wake County.

The NAACP and other plaintiffs said that violated the state constitution, which prohibits redrawing districts between the census every 10 years unless ordered to do so by the courts.

Attorney Allison Riggs argued to the judges Friday that the four Wake County districts, which don't border any of the districts redrawn to correct the gerrymanders, were adjusted solely for political reasons.

"These districts did not have to be changed in order to fix the racial gerrymandering [elsewhere], so the prohibition on mid-decade redistricting needs to be given the full force and effect," Riggs said.

But Phil Strach, who was representing lawmakers, said the state constitution doesn't address what happens when a court steps in, which gives the General Assembly plenty of leeway.

"Upon the court ordering a new redistricting to be done, we believe the legislature had the authority to go and change any district it wanted," Strach said.

Riggs asked the judges to issue an injunction blocking the new districts from being used this year.

Doing so would invalidate the votes in those districts in the May 8 primary and require a special election this summer, much like the special election for U.S. House members in 2016 when courts threw out the state's congressional districts and called for a new map.

Strach argued the lawsuit should have been filed last year when lawmakers approved the new maps, and the plaintiffs are trying to game the courts by delaying their challenge till two months ago. He told the judges it's too late to block the maps now.

"All of this could have been avoided," he said. "This issue could have been teed up well before filing. The districts could have been redrawn if there was an unconstitutional – a constitutional problem with them. We would not be here today."

Riggs noted that Wake County has held special elections before, and she said the plaintiffs have already waited too long for justice since the districts have been in question since 2011.

"It's 2018, and North Carolina has yet to conduct one election cycle under constitutional state House districts," she said. "Every voter in Wake County deserves fully constitutional districts to use for state House elections in 2018."