State legislative leaders and election officials have not decided if they’ll tell a federal judge that they’ll draw new maps for this fall’s elections for Wake County Board of Commissioners and school board.
On 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. New districts are needed following a July 1 federal appeals court ruling that the state legislature’s maps for Wake County are unconstitutional.
The General Assembly is not scheduled to return until January, so a special session would be needed to approve new Wake maps this year. Spokespeople from Berger’s and Moore’s offices said Monday that their legal teams are reviewing Dever’s order.
If state legislators don’t act, then the State Board of Elections can use a section under state law authorizing it “to make reasonable interim rules and regulations” when county maps are declared unconstitutional. Josh Lawson, general counsel for the State Board, said Monday that it’s a question of logistics, legal authority and willingness.
Lawson said the board’s staff has to see if it can logistically and legally create new maps. Then, he said, the State Board, which plans to meet July 18, has to decide if it’s willing to create new districts.
“We have reached no definite conclusions at this point,” Lawson said.
Dever wrote in his order Friday that he’d draw up the maps himself if the state didn’t create new districts. All nine school board seats and five Board of Commissioners seats are scheduled to be on the Nov. 8 ballot.
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.
On July 1, a U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals panel ruled 2-1 that the maps can’t be used in November. Dever is charged with carrying out the appellate decision.
The Wake County Board of Elections held an emergency meeting Monday with its attorney to discuss Dever’s order.
Dever has requested Wake election officials 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 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. But Wake election officials said they don’t have the authority to make that decision.
“Our position all along has been we don’t draw maps,” said J. Brian Ratledge, chairman of the Wake board. “We’re not the arbiters really of this dispute.”
The Wake board will meet Wednesday to continue discussing the case. Ratledge said they may have more then to publicly share, including whether the Wake board will appeal the appellate decision.
“Hopefully we’ll have a little bit clearer picture in terms of where things are Wednesday,” Ratledge said. “Hopefully we’ll be in a position where we can inform the public on where we’re headed.”