North Carolina has asked the three-judge federal panel that unexpectedly invalidated two congressional districts on Friday to puts its ruling on hold because voting has already begun in the March 15 primary election.
The state contends in an appeal and an emergency petition that a quick decision is needed because absentee balloting has already begun in the 2016 primary elections.
The federal court declared that the 1st and 12th congressional districts were unconstitutional because they were drawn based on racial gerrymandering. The ruling gave state lawmakers two weeks to redraw the maps.
Both the petition for a stay and the notice of plans to appeal were filed with the three-judge panel in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina that issued the ruling. The state attorney general’s office and outside counsel for the General Assembly filed the documents.
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The federal court could put its own ruling on hold, or the primary relections could be rescheduled. The state will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court if they don’t obtain a favorable ruling from the panel.
House leaders advised their members on Monday that the governor could call them into special session next week for several days, if they have to redraw the maps of the 1st and 12th congressional districts before the deadline or the election.
However, a spokeswoman for Senate Leader Phil Berger said legislators “fully expect” the stay to be granted.
State Sen. Bob Rucho, a Republican from Mecklenburg County, and Rep. David Lewis, a Republican from Harnett County, issued a joint statement:
“We trust the federal trial court was not aware an election was already underway and surely did not intend to throw our state into chaos by nullifying ballots that have already been sent out and votes that have already been cast. We hope the court will realize the serious and far-reaching ramifications of its unprecedented, eleventh-hour action and immediately issue a stay.”
State Elections Director Kim Strach, in an affidavit filed with the motion to stay the order, wrote:
"Even slight changes can trigger complex and interwoven statutory requirements and involve nonobvious logistical burdens and costs borne by North Carolina’s 100 counties. Our agency takes seriously its obligation to enforce fully both legislative and judicial mandates, and to work diligently to ensure decision-makers are apprised of collateral effects that may attend those decisions."
The three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina issued an opinion that the Republican-led General Assembly in 2011 had redrawn the districts not for political reasons but for racial distribution, packing minorities into a district and weakening their influence in surrounding districts.
Legislators said the ruling throws the upcoming election into chaos. More than 8,600 absentee ballots have already been distributed.
The ruling halts the elections in those two districts, but broader implications were still being worked out. The state Board of Elections encouraged people to vote the entire ballots, and not be dissuaded by the uncertainty.
Staff writer Anne Blythe contributed.