Fourteen Wake County voters and the Raleigh Wake Citizens Association filed a lawsuit in federal court Thursday challenging the recent legislative rewrite of rules for electing Wake County commissioners.
The complaint accuses Republican legislative leaders and Wake elections officials of racial gerrymanders and developing a plan that unfairly weakens the power of urban voters and strengthens the suburban and rural vote.
Chad Barefoot, a state senator from Wake County who pushed for the changes; Sen. Phil Berger, president pro tempore of the N.C. Senate; Tim Moore, speaker of the N.C. House of Representatives; and the Wake County board of elections are named in the suit.
“This litigation is about the fundamental American proposition that when voters live and vote in districts, those districts should be relatively compact, and the population divided equally,” said Beverley S. Clark, a plaintiff who is a resident of one of the new districts being challenged and a former Wake County school board member.
“It is undemocratic for the General Assembly to randomly use its power to make district changes without any compelling reason or any new census data.”
The General Assembly adopted the changes to the Wake County Board of Commissioners last week, months after the November elections in which Democrats gained a 7-0 majority there.
The legal challenge comes amid a flurry of statewide lawsuits challenging a 2011 redistricting that brought similar allegations of racial gerrymanders.
The N.C. Supreme Court rejected the challenge to the statewide legislative and congressional districts last year, but the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals has not yet issued a ruling.
The Wake County complaint comes amid questions about other Republican-sponsored changes to local governing boards.
Critics have described the Republicans, still new to power in North Carolina, as overreaching.
Barefoot said in a statement last week that the Wake County move was meant to “fix” what he described as an unjust local election process.
Others suspect different motives.
Earl Johnson, president of the Raleigh Wake Citizens Association, a long-established political advocacy group whose largely African-American membership lives in the affected districts, said in a statement: “The new election plan passed by the General Assembly is likely to result in people having less, not more, connection with their elected representatives.”
“Right now voters have a voice in electing all seven members who must be accountable to them. Under the new plan each voter will have just two commissioners representing them, who can ignore them because the gerrymandered districts give them safe seats. This was a partisan power grab that cannot withstand neutral review.”
New base districts
The map above shows how Wake County’s most recent elections would have played out under the seven new base districts. Blue shading represents districts where Democrats held the majority, while red represents Republican-heavy areas.
The map above shows how Wake County’s most recent elections would have played out under the two new super-districts. Blue shading represents District 1, which Democrats won by a wide margin, while red represents the Republican-held District 2.