39,000 New Hanover County residents affected by new congressional district lines

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The New Hanover County Board of Elections was busy Thursday afternoon as people registered to vote before Friday's deadline. Photo by Hannah Leyva.
The New Hanover County Board of Elections was busy Thursday afternoon as people registered to vote before Friday’s deadline. Photo by Hannah Leyva.

About 39,000 citizens in the north west part of New Hanover County could have a new congressional representative.

On Feb. 5, a federal court panel deemed two of North Carolina’s 13 congressional districts to have been racially gerrymandered, and the state was told elections could not be held until new maps were drawn. The districts were last drawn in 2011.

After many meetings, Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly drew a new map, and House Bill 2 was passed by legislators and signed by Gov. Pat McCrory by the Feb. 19 deadline.

While the districts that represent the area, District 3 (Walter Jones – R) and District 7 (David Rouzer – R) were not the ones under scrutiny by the federal court, they were adjusted in the redrawing process.

“With the new lines that have been drawn, all of New Hanover County now falls in District 7,” said New Hanover County Elections Director Derek Bowen.

Previously, a portion of the county was located in District 3. According to Bowens, the map still has to be approved by the federal courts in order for the new districts to be finalized.

“It would certainly decrease an extra ballot style that we would have to create,” said Bowens, referring to the several kinds of ballots they have to make for county residents depending on where they live and who represents them (for example, three state representatives for the county means three different styles of ballots).

HB 2 also creates a second primary election for congressional candidates (both Rouzer and Jones are facing challengers) that is scheduled for June 7. Prior to this election cycle, North Carolina held two primaries, but last year legislators voted to consolidate them into one to save money and also to give the state a bigger voice in choosing the presidential candidates. New Hanover County, however, is fiscally ready to hold both elections.

“There’s always a chance for a second primary. We expected to have one,” said Bowens. “We budgeted for both elections because we submitted our budget for the 2015-2016 fiscal year before that decision was made, so we do have funds for that.”

Bowens said the June 7 date gives him and his staff more time to prepare for the second primary, which in previous years was held in May. All the residents affected by the changes will have to be notified, mostly by mail, and the county’s computers and voting maps will have to be updated by the state.

Nothing can be done, however, until the map is approved at the federal level, and Bowens is unsure of when that will be.

“We get our marching orders from the state board of elections,” Bowens said. “When they tell us to move, we’ll move. Whatever we have to do, we’ll be ready.”

There is one thing that’s certain, and it will continue to keep Bowens and his staff busy for the next few weeks.

“There will definitely be a primary election on March 15,” Bowens said.

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