Redistricting hearing starts today in Triad

Redistricting hearing starts today in Triad
July 27
05:00 2017

GREENSBORO — Today in a U.S. Middle District courtroom before a special three-judge federal District Court panel, arguments began to determine when legislative districts that were originally racially gerrymandered in the 2011 redistricting by the Republican-led N.C. General Assembly will be redrawn, and if special elections can be held before the 2018 mid-term elections.

All briefs in the case were filed on Friday, July 21.

Both sides – plaintiffs (attorneys for Sandra Little Covington and others) and defendants (lawyers for the Republican-led N.C. General Assembly and the state Board of Elections) were scheduled to be given 90 minutes to present testimony by way of witnesses, and supporting evidence, to convince the court of the best remedy available.

Plaintiffs have filed a brief saying, in essence, that the moment the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed in June the three-judge panel’s August 2016 ruling that 28 of 100 legislative districts were unconstitutional because of racial gerrymandering, the Republican-led N.C. General Assembly had no authority to override Gov. Cooper’s vetoes because lawmakers were elected illegally, and cannot have that authority until all districts are redrawn, declared legal by the court, and special elections held.

Plaintiffs say state lawmakers can redraw the districts when they reconvene during their upcoming Aug. 3 special session, which starts next week. New maps could be enacted by Aug. 11, with a candidate-filing period between Sept. 11 and Sept. 25.

Primaries could be held Dec. 5, 2017, and the special legislative elections held on March 6, 2018. Absentee voting for both the primaries and special elections were built into the plaintiff’s plans when they were scheduled to introduce in court today, according to documents filed.

Six witnesses are listed for the plaintiffs, including Gary Bartlett, former executive director of the N.C. State Board of Elections; George Gilbert, former director of the Guilford County Board of Elections; and state Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett), one of the 2011 redistricting leaders responsible for the racially gerrymander districts.

Per the defendants’ “witness designation”  court papers, Kim  Westbrook Strach, executive director of the N.C. Bipartisan State Board of Elections & Ethics Enforcement, is scheduled to be called. State Attorney General Josh Stein is representing the state.

Defendants say special elections cannot be held before the 2018 mid-term elections because it would be disruptive to legislators elected in 2016 to two-year terms who would have their tenures unfairly cut short, only to have to run again in 2018.

Most legal and political observers say so much time has passed since Aug. 15, 2016, when the judicial panel originally ordered new maps by March 2017, followed by special elections in August-September 2017. But the U.S. Supreme Court later stayed that order, at the request of Republican lawmakers, until it agreed last month that the maps needed to be remedied, and ordered the three-judge panel to consider other options beyond its original order for special elections.

Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, ordered the legislature into a 14-day special session to immediately redraw the maps, but Republican legislative leaders ignored his order, saying it was unconstitutional, and that he could only do so on “extraordinary occasions.”

Prior to the federal hearing today, Republican legislative leaders called for two special sessions in August and September, adding that based on that schedule, new redistricting maps should be ready by Nov. 15, a date that gives no time for special elections this year.

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Cash Michaels

Cash Michaels

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