May primary issues prompt request to throw out redistricting maps

Issues in May primary drives accusation of intentional racial rift

cjarvis@newsobserver.comOctober 6, 2012 

ELECTIONSETUP-NE-050712-TEL

Election volunteers from left, Bob Kattman, Grady Britt and Denise Kincade help set up voting booths at Reedy Creek Elementary School in Cary (precinct 04-05) Monday, May 7, 2012, in preparation for the Tuesday, May 8, 2012 primary election.

TRAVIS LONG — tlong@newsobserver.com

— Confusion created by the newly drawn legislative and congressional maps caused some voters in the May primary to be assigned to the wrong districts and others given the wrong ballots, attorneys representing advocacy groups and registered Democrats say.

In a motion filed Friday in Wake County Superior Court, they say their spot analysis of six counties proves that the maps unconstitutionally disenfranchised voters and should be thrown out. They contend the boundaries were intentionally drawn to segregate minority voters.

A key Republican leader responded that the GOP remains confident its maps will be upheld and characterized the motion for a partial summary judgment as a maneuver by the other side to abandon a substantial portion of the claims it made in the lawsuit it filed last year. Gary Bartlett, head of the state Board of Elections, says it hasn’t received any complaints about voters receiving wrong ballots in the primary.

The advocacy groups said Friday they found 2,056 voters in those six counties – Wake, Durham, Wayne, Wilson, Robeson and Richmond – were assigned to the wrong state House, Senate or congressional districts. Almost all of the voters in those counties live in split precincts, they say, and 222 of them received the wrong ballots on Election Day.

They contend nearly 2 million people of voting age live in split precincts statewide, and that black voters are much more likely than white voters to live in them.

Representatives of the advocacy groups, in a news conference in front of the Wake County Courthouse after filing the motion, said they recognize that the party in power always draws districts to their advantage every decade. But, they insist, this redistricting was more extreme than any in the past. They say 563 precincts were split, more than twice the number 10 years ago.

Bob Hall, director of the watchdog group Democracy North Carolina, said at the news conference the maps were drawn to drive a wedge between black and white voters.

“It’s a diabolical plan to bleach the districts, to create an apartheid, using a computer in a way that’s going to hurt all the voters,” Hall said.

Sen. Bob Rucho, a Republican from Mecklenburg County and one of the key mapmakers, said the defendants would have a specific response once they study the new data. But he said the maps would ultimately be vindicated.

“We do believe that the fair and legal maps we drew, which received validation and approval by the civil rights division of the Justice Department in record time without any negative comments, will stand the day in court,” Rucho said.

The advocacy groups also argue that the maps were drawn in secret, since national Republican redistricting expert Tom Hofeller has acknowledged he didn’t attend public hearings and didn’t read meeting transcripts when he developed the districts with his specialized software. Rucho called the claim “malarkey.”

Rucho said he and Rep. David Lewis, a Republican from Dunn, provided Hofeller with specific directions on how to draw the maps, based on legal requirements, extensive public hearings and other input. Hofeller simply provided the technical expertise and wasn’t drawing lines on his own, Rucho said.

The plaintiffs’ motion contends that the new data, using U.S. Census numbers, along with testimony in depositions and other evidence, makes it unnecessary to continue to trial on some of its claims. The motion only seeks a ruling on the federal constitutional claims in the lawsuit; the remaining state claims could eventually be dismissed, said Anita Earls, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys.

“They have narrowed the case significantly,” Rucho said.

The case is a consolidation of two lawsuits, one brought by four advocacy groups and 45 individuals. The groups are the NAACP, the League of Women Voters, Democracy North Carolina and the voter-education A. Philip Randolph Institute. The other lawsuit was brought on behalf of 46 Democratic voters.

The plaintiffs are asking for a November hearing on the motion, and say they don’t expect the issue will be resolved in time for the general election.

The case is on hold while the state Supreme Court considers whether a dispute over what documents should be made available to the plaintiffs’ attorneys. Rucho said both sides had agreed to hold off on filing summary judgment motions until after the Supreme Court rules.

Jarvis: 919-829-4576

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