Less than three months before the Nov. 8 election, Wake County voters finally know what the county voting districts are, who they can vote for and how long those elected will serve.
That late-coming clarification arrived Tuesday when U.S. District Judge James C. Dever III said that the county’s school board and county commissioners elections must use district maps that were in place before the legislature imposed a new set friendlier to Republicans. Dever is partially responsible for Wake’s electoral turmoil. He ruled in February that the legislature’s maps were legal, but a three-judge panel of the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals voted 2-1 to reverse his ruling. The appeals court found that the legislature’s maps violated the one-person, one-vote requirement. Judge James Wynn wrote for the majority, “the challenged redistricting here subverts political fairness and proportional representation and sublimates partisan gamesmanship.”
Dever’s role can be excused as a judicial error. But there is no excuse for the legislator who sponsored the “partisan gamesmanship” that created this costly and confusing disruption of Wake elections. That legislator is state Sen. Chad Barefoot, a Republican representing eastern Wake and Franklin counties.
Barefoot sought to weaken the influence of Raleigh’s voters by tilting county voting districts to favor rural and suburban Republicans. His bill changed the voting districts for school board members in 2013. In 2015 he sponsored legislation requiring that county commissioners be elected using the same gerrymandered maps.
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It’s worth reflecting on how high-handed Barefoot was in using the legislature to try to upend Democratic gains on both local boards. The maps he sought to change were drawn when Republicans controlled both boards. After Democrats took over anyway, Barefoot moved to have the maps drawn again. For good measure, his legislation changed years of election, moved commissioners from being elected countywide to being elected by district and added two super districts to the board of county commissioners.
Barefoot compounded that reckless makeover with further abuse of the democratic process. Wake voters got short notice of the changes and had little time to respond. A request to put the county commissioners changes up for a countywide vote was rejected.
Other legislators abetted Barefoot, but he is the one who will have to face some Wake County voters this fall. This election, they should remember who tried to change Wake elections to serve his party rather than his county.