Wake County voters will go to the polls for the May 8 primary elections to select candidates for the state House of Representatives in districts being challenged in court as unconstitutional.
A three-judge panel issued an order on Friday denying a request to block primary elections in the Wake County districts at the core of the redistricting challenge until the case is resolved in court.
But the order signed by the panel — Superior Court judges Paul Ridgeway of Wake County, Joseph Crosswhite of Alexander and Iredell counties, and Alma Hinton of Halifax County — states the challengers "have demonstrated a reasonable likelihood of success on the merits of their claims."
"We are gratified that the court recognized that the legislature likely acted unconstitutionally when it unnecessarily redrew several Wake County House Districts," Allison Riggs, senior voting rights attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, said in a statement on Friday. "We will aggressively litigate this case to final resolution to ensure there are fair districts in place by the time voters go to the ballot box in 2020. Basic legal principles of equality demand that voters in Wake County have the same right to vote in constitutional districts as every other resident in the state.”
Rep. David Lewis, a Republican from Harnett County who is chairman of the House redistricting committee, released a statement with his own reaction to the ruling.
"I appreciate that the court blocked Allison Riggs and her fellow Democratic activists’ latest effort to disrupt North Carolina elections and throw out votes that have already been cast,” Lewis said. "Wake County voters will vote in clean, compact, and competitive races this fall. I am confident the General Assembly will ultimately prevail against these claims."
The lawsuit was filed in February by the NAACP, League of Women Voters of North Carolina, Democracy North Carolina, the North Carolina A. Philip Randolph Institute and four voters.
The challengers are arguing that lawmakers violated the state constitution when they redrew four Wake County election districts mid-decade when federal judges had not ordered them to do so to correct other districts ruled to be racial gerrymanders.
“Voters in North Carolina have a state constitutional right to have their legislative districts changed only once a decade," Riggs said at the time. "This is an important protection in state law – one that many states don’t have – and its clear purpose is to prevent the ills of gerrymandering and political gamesmanship present here."
Over the past decade, at least half a dozen lawsuits have been filed over North Carolina's election districts and the lines drawn and redrawn by Republicans at the helm of the General Assembly.
The districts at the core of the lawsuit filed in February and the subject of Ridgeway's order — N.C. House Districts 36, 37, 40 and 41 — currently are held by Democrats Joe John and Gale Adcock and Republicans Nelson Dollar and Linda Hunt Williams.
Hunt Williams has announced she won’t seek another term. A Democrat, Sydney Batch, a Republican, John B. Adcock, and a Libertarian, Guy Meilleur, are running for that seat. Julie von Haefen, a Democrat and president of the Wake County PTA Council, and Libertarian Robyn Haley Pegram are challenging Dollar.
Republican Marilyn Avila, a former state House member, is challenging John, who also faces Libertarian David Ulmer.
Gale Adcock has drawn challenges from Emmanuel Wilder, a Republican, and Liam Leaver, a Libertarian.
In his order, Ridgeway noted the timing of the lawsuit with a primary election where absentee voting already has begun.
Ballots have been printed.
Early voting begins April 19.
"Under these circumstances, the Court, in its discretion, concludes that disrupting Wake County elections already underway is not warranted and is not appropriate exercise of the Court's equitable jurisdiction," the order states..