N.C. awaits appeal over districts

N.C.  awaits appeal over districts
February 11
00:00 2016
Above: Rep. Butterfield, Rep. Adams



It’s more election uncertainty, as a federal court ruled that two congressional districts, one of which includes a part of Winston-Salem, were racially gerrymandered and needed to be redrawn before elections are held for either seat.

North Carolina appealed the case with a motion to stay the decision. That stay was rejected Tuesday, so now the petition will move to the U.S .Supreme Court.

The two districts are the 1st District, represented by G.K. Butterfield, and the 12th District, represented by Alma Adams, both black Democrats. The 12th includes part of Winston-Salem.

The three judge panel ruled Friday, Feb. 5, that the districts were redrawn in 2011 to pack minority voters into districts that already were heavily minority, lessening their voting power in the rest of the state in violation of the Equal Protection Claus of the U.S. Constitution. While courts allow districts to be gerrymandered for partisan advantage, race is not supposed to play a factor. The court has ordered the districts redrawn by Feb. 19. This will require the governor to call the General Assembly back for a special session and any redrawn districts would once again have to be approved by the U.S. Justice Department.

The primary is March 15 and absentee voting has already begun. More than 8,600 absentee ballots have been sent out by the state Board of Elections. As of last Friday, the state BOE had already received more then 400 completed absentee ballots and is encouraging people to fill out the entire absentee ballot, despite the

uncertainty. In a statement, Sen. Bob Rucho and Rep. David Lewis, the Republican chairs of the House and Senate Redistricting Committees, said because of the ruling, voters no longer know when the primary election will be and absentee ballots could be tossed out.

“We are confident our state Supreme Court made the right decision when it upheld the maps drawn by the General Assembly and approved by the Obama Justice Department, and we will move swiftly to appeal this decision,” they said.In the past few decades, the state has delayed some or all the races in primaries, so districts could be redrawn.

Activists groups are applauding the ruling. Among those praising the ruling was the Rev. Dr. William Barber II, president of the N.C. NAACP, which has a similar lawsuit in state court.

“This is a great victory for racial minorities in North Carolina and for the integrity of our state’s political process,” said Barber.

The N.C. NAACP does see this case, which was filed by one voter in Durham County and two from Mecklenburg County, as helping the civil rights organization in its argument against the entire 2011 redistricting map in state court, where the N.C. Supreme Court had  originally dismissed its claim.

Democracy North Carolina has also legally challenged the districts. The group’s director, Bob Hall, called the redrawn districts “computerized apartheid.”

“We oppose the maps because they aggressively segregate voters and undermine the ability of voters to form multiracial ‘fusion’ coalitions to advance a meaningful multiracial society,” said Hall in a statement.

The 12th District contains parts of Charlotte, Greensboro, Winston-Salem and several other cities. It’s 120 miles long but only 20 miles across in its widest part. Adams, a veteran politician who has represented the 12th District since 2014, has two primary opponents: Gardenia Henley of Winston-Salem and Juan Antonio Marin Jr. of Greensboro. Two Republicans are running for the seat in the GOP primary: Leon Threatt of Matthews and Ryan Duffie of Charlotte.

“We don’t know what the impacts of this decision will be yet, but for now I am concentrating on doing my job as the Congresswoman for the 12th District, and running a campaign on the basis of my strong record of doing what is right for North Carolina and my District.” said Adams in a statement.

Henley said in a statement that she supported the decision and felt it was “an excellent start to put us on the correct path.”

“Of course this decision will disrupt an election already underway, but if the map is redrawn correctly, without bias, it will be in the best interest of the citizens,” she said. “Candidates will just have to stop complaining and work a little harder in order to win.”

Butterfield, who is running unopposed, said the court “reached the only decision that could be allowed under the undisputed facts of the case.”

“Democrats have argued for years that Republican legislatures have unnecessarily and unconstitutionally packed African-American voters into minority districts,” he said in a statement.  “The Court’s decision supports our contentions. While the congressional district boundaries may change, my commitment to the fight for job creation and social justice will remain the same.“

The 1st District, which he’s represented since 2004. contains five whole counties and parts of 19 others in the northeast part of the state. Butterfield said he is running for re-election regardless of the new district lines and is still focused on representing the people who live there.

So what happens now for the March 15th primaries?

Those opposed to the federal appellate court ruling see it disrupting the Legislature’s original intent of moving the North Carolina primaries from May to March in order to have a greater impact on the presidential elections.

Supporters of the court order say those who have already voted by absentee ballot can simply vote again if the March 15th primaries are pushed back to April, or even where they originally were, May. The important thing, they say, is that unconstitutionally drawn voting districts be corrected in time for the 2016 elections.

Republican leaders say it could take longer than two weeks to redraw their districts per court order, however redistrict-ing is done by computer models, which greatly reduces the time  that it once took to create voting maps.

At press time Tuesday, Gov. Pat McCrory was reportedly ready to order the N.C. General Assembly back next week for a special session to redraw the maps.

Cash Michaels, writing for The Chronicle, contributed to this report.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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