A federal court decision cast uncertainty on the March 15 primary election when it ruled that two congressional districts are “unconstitutional racial gerrymanders” and must be re-drawn by Feb.19.
Lawmakers have filed an appeal for an emergency stay with the U.S. Supreme Court after being denied one by the federal court that issued the order. The Supreme Court will issue a response by Feb.16, potentially giving lawmakers just three days to re-draw its 13 districts.
State Board of Elections offer “the short two-week deadline the three-judge court imposed on the State to draw remedial districts, the fact that absentee ballots have already been sent out, the swiftly approaching March primary date, and the impending election chaos that the three-judge court’s directives are likely to unleash” as reasons to postpone the Feb. 19 deadline.
Districts 1 and 12 are comprised of 53 and 50 percent African American voters, respectively. The only other congressional district to come close to this amount of African American influence is District 4 with 32 percent. No other district in the state is even 20 percent African American, according the 2014 U.S. Census.
The districts in question were drawn in 2011 under the direction of Republicans, Senator Rucho and Representative Lewis. They contracted Thomas Hofeller, a Republican mapmaker frequently accused of gerrymandering. A writer for The Atlantic described Hofeller’s redistricting plans in 2012 as “wombs for his team and tombs for the other guys,” while a 2014 Washington Post article awarded North Carolina “three out of the top 10 most-gerrymandered districts in the country.”
Map from 2014 Washington Post article.
Critics including the NAACP argue that the drawing of African Americans (who traditionally vote for Democratic Party candidates) into a few districts diluted their voting power. Many cite 2010 elections results when Republicans won six districts and Democrats seven, compared to 2012, after redistricting, when Republican candidates won nine districts to the Democrat Party’s four.
“Democrats have argued for years that Republican legislatures have unnecessarily and unconstitutionally packed African American voters into minority districts,” District 1 Representative, Paul Butterfield, said. “The Court’s decision supports our contentions.”
“This change in districts will result in a more favorable balance for Democratic races as currently the districts massively favor Republicans,” James Fulbright, communications director for a Democrat running for office in District 2, said. “We’ve had people come up to us at an event the day after this ruling came down and say: ‘We think your race could be competitive as a result of the re-drawing of the districts, will you take cash donations?’”
Whether the State Board of Elections’ request for a stay is granted or not, North Carolina has many politicians and lawmakers scrambling to prepare.
“It’ll certainly be interesting to see how the districts shake out. There will certainly be more African American voters in other districts, we’ll have to see not only how that affects the candidates but also their support networks throughout the communities,” Fulbright said.