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Friday December 3rd

'Racial gerrymanders' to stand on election day

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The judges, two district and one federal, found the state’s 2011 redistricting maps for the NC House and Senate to be “racial gerrymanders” and in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

But given time constraints, the 28 challenged districts will stand for this year’s elections.

“I think we understand that at this late date, it would be very, very difficult to have a remedy for 2016,” said Allison Riggs, a staff attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

Riggs said the organization told the court that special primaries could have been slotted for August if a panel decision had come out by June.

Elliot Engstrom, a fellow at Elon Law School, said given all of the districts affected by the panel’s ruling, there would not be sufficient time to correct the maps by November.

“Effectively, (the ruling) means that they might need to redraw the entire map,” Engstrom said. “And there’s just no way that could be done before the election.”

N.C. Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, involved with the 2011 House redistricting map, said he was disappointed in the panel’s opinion.

“However, we are relieved for voters that the district court did not disrupt the current election that is already underway,” he said in a statement. “Our attorneys are currently reviewing the ruling and evaluating next steps.”

Definitive action might be possible before remedial districts are created in 2018, Riggs said. The panel encouraged the Southern Coalition for Social Justice to seek relief earlier, which Riggs thinks might take the form of a 2017 special election for one-year terms.

N.C. Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, who had a hand in drawing the 2011 Senate map, and state Gov. Pat McCrory could not be reached for comment.

For Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause North Carolina — which filed a suit challenging the state’s 2016 U.S. Congressional districts as being partisan gerrymandering — November could seem complicated to voters.

“This just creates more confusion and skepticism amongst the public — particularly (for) younger people who are beginning to pay attention, maybe voting for the very first time in their lives,” he said.

Riggs said the unconstitutional districts call into question the legitimacy of election results.

“You’ve elected representatives who will be the controlling party in the legislature out of a plan that’s an unconstitutional racial gerrymander,” she said.

But that shouldn’t stop North Carolinians from making it to the polls, Riggs said.

“Even when unconstitutionally gerrymandered, your vote still matters, and if enough people turn out, you can overcome the way they’ve tried to game the system,” she said.

‘Learn your lesson’

Since 2011, North Carolina has had six voting laws struck down to be unconstitutional by federal courts, Riggs said.

“At some point, you’ve got to say, ‘My God, people, learn your lesson. Stop wasting everybody’s time,’” she said.

Independent redistricting has at times been lauded as a potential solution to redistricting issues.

But Engstrom wonders whether an independent commission could ever be truly or politically independent.

Phillips said having explicit criteria for drawing districts could streamline any process.

“If you have that and you have full sunshine and transparency, who draws the map is important but maybe not as important and key as having criteria that completely eliminates politics,” he said.

@CLRlyCorey

state@dailytarheel.com



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