Lawmakers react to special elections ruling

Lawmakers react to special elections ruling
December 08
05:45 2016



There’s no question incoming Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper will be dealing with entrenched Republican super-majorities in the state House and Senate when he takes office, but that could change.

Thanks to a federal court order issued last week requiring North Carolina’s legislative districts to be redrawn by March 15, 2017, followed by primaries in late August or early September, and then November 2017 elections.

The 2017 special elections are required, the court said, because 2011 redistricting maps drawn by the Republican-led NC legislature unconstitutionally “stacked and packed” the state’s black voters into a handful of districts, otherwise known as racial gerrymandering, so that they could not influence races in other districts.

As a result, the court ruled that 28 state House and Senate districts had to be redrawn, effectively meaning that virtually the entire 2011 legislative map the 2016 general elections were based on must now be thrown out, and the new map  approved by the federal court and put in force for the special elections for the 2017 primaries and November elections.

State lawmakers will then have to immediately prepare for the regular 2018 mid-term elections, which Democrats must do well in in order to control the legislature in 2020, and with it, the redistricting process.

Republicans, who are now appealing the court order to the U.S. Supreme Court, predictably blasted the ruling.

“This politically-motivated decision, which would effectively undo the will of millions of North Carolinians just days after they cast their ballots, is a gross overreach that blatantly disregards the constitutional guarantee for voters to duly elect their legislators to biennial terms,” Sen. Bob Rucho, (R-Mecklenburg) and Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett) said in a joint statement. “We continue to believe the maps drawn by the General Assembly, pre-cleared by the Obama Justice Department and twice upheld by our state’s elected Supreme Court.”

Rep. Donny Lambeth (R-District 75- Forsyth) agrees. “I do find it very curious and concerning for this small judge panel to wait until after we just finished a very competitive election in which we were elected for two-year terms to now decide to force us to another election.,” Rep. Lambeth told The Chronicle. “But I will seek election under whatever terms are set forward. Tax payers are the losers as elections off cycle are very costly and usually very low turnout.”

But Democrats say if the current districts are unconstitutional, then they must be corrected. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t still questions.

“Exactly how this will affect us as legislators is yet to be determined because we haven’t seen [the redrawn maps] yet,” Sen. Paul Lowe (D-Forsyth) told The Chronicle. “It should be better [for Democrats] in terms of … there should be less [racial] gerrymandering. I’m pre-pared to work with the decision that the courts have made.”

State Senate Minority Leader Sen. Dan Blue said, “ We are elected to these offices and hold these offices to serve the citizens who elected us, not to serve our own purposes. The court found, rightfully so, that these districts were unconstitutional because of the way they packed African-American voters in as few districts as possible. That is a constitutional violation, and you want to remedy a constitutional violation as soon as possible.”

Sen. Blue continued, “ The citizens of North Carolina deserve to have people representing them who are elected from constitutional districts. So since it’s about the citizens and not about us, even if it’s a little inconvenient to run two years in a row, the benefit it bestows the people that we represent far offsets any kind of inconvenience it might cause the [candidates] running.”

“My sentiment is with the voters,” says Linda Wilkins-Daniels, president of the African-American Caucus of the N.C. Democratic Party. “Voters should choose their representatives, not vice versa. A 2017 election will be costly and tasking, but is the remedy for GOP overreach.”

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Cash Michaels

Cash Michaels

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