State legislators on the clock over Wake County districts

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Redrawn Wake County district map remains up in the air.

A federal judge set Monday as the deadline to decide whether to draw up new maps for the Wake County School Board and Board of Commissioners and now the State Board of Elections says it won't draw the maps unless ordered by the courts.

The U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled earlier this month that the voting districts drawn by the General Assembly for the Wake County Board of Commissioners and Board of Education are unconstitutional.

If Republican leaders on Jones Street and the Board of Elections do not have a plan for new maps Monday, the chief district court judge says he will draw up the new maps.

The Board of Elections Executive Director sent a letter to the judge on Friday laying out the state's position. Kim Strach told the judge there was little historical precedent for the NC Board of Elections to draw districting maps and that the agency lacked the requisite experience, staff, or software to do the job right.


"We're only prepared to act if no one else does and if we're ordered to do so," explained State Elections Board Chair Grant Whitney during Monday's meeting.

In the meantime, the ruling has thrown elections scheduled for this November into doubt.

The three-judge panel said the districts created by the Republican-led legislature violate the right of one person, one vote guaranteed under the Constitution's Equal Protection Clause in the Fourteenth Amendment.


Following an election that put Democrats in control of the school board, in 2013, the General Assembly passed a law that changed the school board makeup from nine single-member districts to seven and set new district boundaries. It also created two "super districts" that overlaid the others.

In 2015, the General Assembly passed another law making the system of electing county commissioners the same.

In their ruling Friday, the judges wrote the "plaintiffs proffered uncontroverted evidence of an illegitimate factor predominating in the skewed, unequal redistricting: an attempt to guarantee Republican victory through the intentional packing of Democratic districts."

RELATED: Appeals court rules Wake County districts unconstitutional

While recognizing that partisan gamesmanship is acceptable in the drawing of districts, the judges held that the districts drawn up in this case went too far. They said the districts did not allow voters greater representation, did not increase the alignment between citizen's voting districts and their assigned schools, as claimed by the map drawers, or reduce campaign costs.

The ruling issues a permanent injunction against using the new maps as drawn.

"We see no reason why the November 2016 elections should proceed under the unconstitutional plans we strike down today," the judges wrote.

But after today's State Elections Board meeting, Wake County Elections Board member Mark Ezzell explained why timing is so important. His effective deadline for new maps? August 10th.

"It is by that time," Ezzell said, "that we'll need ballots printed, in the process of being proof-read, mailed out in early September; so our deadline is really, really close."

Strach responded, "I have full confidence in the Wake County Board of Elections, that if any county can do it, they can do it. But even for those counties, that's a short amount of time."

In a statement Tuesday, Senate Leader Phil Berger and Speaker Tim Moore said:

"Today we've asked Judge Dever to allow the elections for Wake County Commission and School Board to proceed under the current maps since changing the elections at the 11th hour would create chaos and confusion - and because the case has not reached its final resolution in court. There is a well-established precedent in North Carolina for elections being allowed to move forward on schedule when changing the districts too close to the election would result in chaos and confusion."

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