Friday, June 21, 2024

Gerrymandering lawsuits spark a pause, restart, and pause again in candidate filings statewide

Lawsuits that claim the new electoral maps in N.C. were gerrymandered have led to the delay of all primary elections next year. (Port City Daily/Alexandria Sands Williams)

Candidate filings for the 2022 elections were halted and restarted, then stopped again this week, as lawsuits that allege the maps were gerrymandered by Republican politicians moved up the court ladder. 

A panel of three judges on the N.C. Court of Appeals ordered that filings for U.S. Representative and N.C. General Assembly candidates be halted on Monday morning. The ruling came as local politicians were making their way to the New Hanover County Board of Elections to formally ignite their candidacies, and hopefuls for federal contests moved to stake their claim at the N.C. State Fairgrounds in Raleigh

State Board of Elections executive director Karen Brinson Bell informed the crowd via intercom of the court decision once word came down, according to The News & Observer, calling the situation “indefinite.” 

Shortly after noon Monday in New Hanover County, Rep. Deb Butler (D), who represents the county’s northwest quadrant, had already snapped her headshot, signed the forms and given a voice sample to the board of elections. Just minutes later the news of the court decision spread. 

The two lawsuits claim that, with their once-in-a-decade opportunity to draw new maps for electoral races, Republicans gave themselves an unfair advantage. 

READ MORE: What redistricting looks like in the Cape Fear region

The NCGA-approved Congressional map would give Republicans a staunch advantage in nine seats, which gives Democrats three secure seats and leaves two districts as toss-up zones, according to the Princeton Gerrymandering Project. (N.C. picked up a 14th Congressional seat through the 2020 Census.)

Monday evening, the full Republican-majority Court of Appeals voted to overrule the three-judge panel and resume the filing process for state and federal candidates. But the restart was brief.

The Supreme Court of N.C. weighed in Wednesday with an order to halt filings again — and it went one step further by delaying all primaries in the state from Mar. 8 until May 17 of next year. 

“In light of the great public interest in the subject matter of these cases, the importance of the issues to the constitutional jurisprudence of this State, and the need for urgency in reaching a final resolution on the merits at the earliest possible opportunity, the Court grants a preliminary injunction and temporarily stays the candidate-filing period for the 2022 elections for all offices until such time as a final judgement on the merits of plaintiffs’ claims, including any appeals, is entered and a remedy, if any is required, has been ordered,” according to the order. 

Those who have already filed to run for public office, however, will not have to refile for the May primaries, unless a future court action impacts their eligibility to hold that office. 

“I kind of knew it would be a possibility,” Butler said of the court order, “and in fact I hoped it would be. Because the maps were such a denial of people’s full vote.” 

Carrie Clark, executive director of the N.C. League for Conservation Voters, which is behind one of the lawsuits, said in a statement that the organization is “gratified” by the N.C. Supreme Court ruling.  

“This will allow voters to be heard in court and to hopefully establish, once and for all, that our state constitution forbids partisan gerrymandering,” according to Clark. “We will continue going to bat for voters so they will vote under fair maps for elections next year and beyond. This is the only way our people will get a General Assembly and congressional delegation that protect every North Carolinian’s right to clean air, clean water, and clean energy.”

In a statement, N.C. Speaker of the House Tim Moore (R) said he was disappointed by the court’s decision to halt and delay an election process already underway. 

“To throw this process into chaos in the middle of filing leaves North Carolinians with uncertainty ahead of the election,” according to Moore. “Despite this delay, we are confident that we will prevail at trial and our maps will stand.”

Butler, whose District 18 is marked as safe for a Democrat win, according to Princeton, said the abundance of districts that are secure for one party, rather than competitive, can turn the primaries extremely partisan. 

“Sometimes as it’s drawn, the biggest challenge comes in the primary, which pushes a progressive farther to the left, it pushes a conservative farther to the right,” Butler said. “And they have to take positions that maybe they would otherwise not normally take.”

At this time, candidate filings for all offices — not just those at the federal and state level — are suspended. According to the State Board of Elections, more than 1,400 candidates had filed statewide by Wednesday evening. 

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