A federal judge is giving state legislators and election officials until July 18 to decide whether they will draw up new maps for the Wake County Board of Commissioners and school board for the November elections.
On July 1, a U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals panel ruled 2-1 that the state legislature’s new districts for Wake County were unconstitutional and can’t be used this fall. In an order Friday, U.S. Chief District Court Judge James C. Dever III said he needs an answer by July 18 on whether Senate Leader Phil Berger, House Speaker Tim Moore and the State Board of Elections will come up with new maps.
If they don’t, Dever said he will draw up the new maps because “the people in Wake County deserve” to elect members to the Board of Commissioners and school board this fall. All nine school board seats and five Board of Commissioners seats are scheduled to be on the Nov. 8 ballot.
“If the General Assembly or the North Carolina Board of Elections does not act and this court concludes that the Fourth Circuit has mandated that the invalidated plans not be used in the November 2016 election, the court will have to devise, consider, and adopt a court-ordered remedial plan or plans,” Dever wrote.
In 2013, the General Assembly redrew the lines for all nine Wake school board seats, turning two into regional districts that each covers about half the county. In 2015, state legislators changed the Wake commissioner lines to match those used by the school board.
The new lines were challenged in a federal lawsuit filed by a group of left-leaning Wake residents and groups. In February, Dever dismissed the lawsuit, ruling that the plaintiffs failed to show the new lines violated constitutional requirements.
But on July 1, the appeals court tossed the new Wake maps and prohibited them from being used in November.
The ruling came down the final day that the General Assembly was meeting in this year’s short session, and legislators said they ran out of time to come up with new maps. Now Dever is giving lawmakers, who aren’t officially defendants in the lawsuit, a second chance. The legislature is not scheduled to convene again until January.
Efforts Sunday to reach Berger and Moore were not successful. They’d have to call for a special session in order to work on the Wake maps this year.
If the General Assembly doesn’t act, Dever points to a provision under state law that authorizes the State Board of Elections “to make reasonable interim rules and regulations” when county elections are declared unconstitutional.
Dever wrote that it appears the board could redraw the lines to equalize the populations in the districts. He said it could address the concerns that the appeals panel had that the legislature’s lines violated the “one person, one vote” principles in the U.S. Constitution.
Efforts Sunday to reach state election officials were not successful.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit want election officials to reinstate the 2011 maps that the school board and commissioners had adopted before they were replaced by state legislators.
Dever also requests that the Wake County Board of Elections provide him by July 18 with information on any applicable upcoming deadlines and whether it’s feasible to hold a new primary election for Wake commissioners. The Wake board is the lone defendant in the lawsuit because it’s charged with implementing the state maps.
The Wake board, which is weighing whether to appeal the appellate decision, has scheduled a Monday meeting in response to Dever’s order.