NC voting maps survive another legal challenge
Posted December 3, 2021 3:06 p.m. EST
Updated December 3, 2021 7:44 p.m. EST
Raleigh, N.C. — For the second time in three days, North Carolina's new congressional and legislative district maps have survived a legal challenge.
A panel of three Superior Court judges on Friday refused to put the state's March primaries on hold while they determine whether lawmakers need to redraw the maps. Candidates can begin filing for state and local offices next Monday.
The North Carolina League of Conservation Voters and a group of voters represented by Democratic attorney Marc Elias have challenged the maps, claiming that they have been gerrymandered to benefit Republican candidates.
The groups argue that the maps are unconstitutional because they don't allow free and fair elections. Districts are drawn in such a way that they guarantee the outcomes of future elections before voters ever go to the polls, depriving many of any real chance to elect the candidates of their choice, attorneys for the groups said in court.
North Carolina is fairly evenly split politically, but the new maps would give Republicans them at least 10 of the state's 14 U.S. House seats and veto-proof majorities in both the state House and the state Senate.
"What shows that they are unlawful is the degree of partisan bias that they bake in," attorney Zach Schauf said.
Republican lawmakers have said they didn't use any political data in drawing the maps. But the plaintiffs presented testimony from mathematics experts across the country saying that's statistically nearly impossible.
"What people do, they take data, your honor, and they plug it into the blackbox algorithms that they can rig on the front end with the criteria that they use to spit the results out," Phil Strach, an attorney for legislative leaders, told the judges. "It's rigged. It's garbage in, garbage out."
In 2019, lawmakers redrew maps after a court at that time agreed that extreme partisan gerrymanders were unconstitutional.
Strach argued Friday that state law does allow for some partisan gerrymandering. He said there's no standard or definition of extreme gerrymandering, and the three judges seemed to agree.
"To the extent the plaintiffs have proven extreme partisan gerrymandering, our ruling should not be construed as condoning such, only that we have a reasonable doubt on these facts as to whether these acts of the General Assembly are unconstitutional," Superior Court Judge Graham Shirley said in speaking for the panel.
House Speaker Tim Moore called the decision "a huge win" for voters.
"[I]t is time to move forward so that the election process can begin and the people of North Carolina can make their voices heard," Moore, R-Cleveland, said in a statement.
The League of Conservation Voters quickly appealed the judges' ruling to the state Court of Appeals.
"The people of North Carolina deserve fair maps, and we will continue our fight to protect the voting rights of millions of North Carolina citizens," Carrie Clark, executive director of the organization, said in a statement.
Shirley also denied a request to put the maps – and the next election – on hold on Tuesday. That was part of a separate lawsuit by the NAACP over the maps, which the organization says don't protect the civil rights of minority voters.