Politics & Government

Wake County districts struck down – but too late to be changed for the elections

The districts for four N.C. House seats in Wake County will have to be redrawn again before the 2020 elections, a court ordered Friday morning in yet another loss in a gerrymandering case for the state legislators who drew the districts.

The legislature has until July 2019 to redraw the districts, the panel of three judges ordered, four days before all members of the General Assembly stand for re-election.

That means the new lines will be ready for the 2020 primaries and general election.

This case is a ripple effect, seven years later, of the 2011 redistricting led by Republican lawmakers in the N.C. General Assembly. After the 2010 census, they redrew the lines for both the state legislature and North Carolina’s U.S. congressional seats. All of those 2011 maps have since been found unconstitutional, and replacement plans like the one in question now have also been found unconstitutional.

In this case, the legislature was ordered to redraw districts for the North Carolina House of Representatives after a court found they had unconstitutionally been drawn to pack large numbers of black voters into a small number of districts, in order to diminish black voters’ political power.

Last year the legislature did fix those racial gerrymandering problems. But when they did, they also redrew four districts in Wake County that had not been ruled unconstitutional, and which did not need to be touched in order to fix the districts that were unconstitutional.

The judges ruled Friday that violated the North Carolina Constitution, which prohibits redistricting from happening anytime except for right after a Census, unless it’s court-ordered. Superior Court judges Paul Ridgeway of Wake County, Joseph Crosswhite of Alexander and Iredell counties, and Alma Hinton of Halifax County found that “the alteration of House districts 36, 37, 40 and 41 was not necessary,” and therefore unconstitutional.

To prove that the legislature didn’t actually need to redraw these districts in the Raleigh suburbs, the group that sued over the new maps, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice hired an outside political expert who drew many different legislative district maps that corrected the unconstitutional racial gerrymanders without needing to touch the four districts in question.

All four districts were on the outskirts of Wake County, representing the suburban towns of Cary, Apex, Holly Springs, Fuquay-Varina and Wake Forest. The Southern Coalition for Social Justice had argued that the districts in question were redrawn last year simply to give Republicans an advantage in this year’s midterm elections.

Two Republican incumbents benefited from the new maps: Rep. Nelson Dollar and newly appointed Rep. John Adcock. Both are in closely contested campaigns this year.

In Dollar’s case, the legislature redrew the map in a way that moved the home of the Democratic challenger who had nearly defeated him in the 2016 election, Jennifer Ferrell, into a different district. Dollar, who is the top budget writer in the N.C. House, is now facing a challenge from a different Democratic woman, Julie von Haefen.

The other two districts are currently held by Democratic Reps. Gale Adcock and Joe John. Gale Adcock is believed to be in a relatively safe seat, although John faces a close contest from the former Republican legislator whom he narrowly defeated in 2016, Marilyn Avila.

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Doran: 919-836-2858; Twitter: @will_doran