On Tuesday, federal judges ordered the North Carolina General Assembly to redraw their districts by March 15, 2017, and hold a special election in November 2017.
In a nutshell, this means that all of the North Carolina House and Senate seats that were decided less than one month ago, will be up for grabs again next year.
This summer, the same three-judge panel ruled that 28 (19 House, 9 Senate) of the 170 districts in the state were “illegal racial gerrymanders,” but determined that was too late in the 2016 election cycle to redraw maps and hold elections under them this month.
Attorney’s representing North Carolina lawmakers argued to the court that more time was needed to redraw the districts, hoping they would be given until at least July 2017 to redraw boundaries. They also didn’t believe they should have to hold special elections for the seats until 2018, allowing those who were just elected to serve a full two-year term, as would typically be the case.
But the judges hearing the case disagreed on both counts.
In the order, the judges stated, “This gives the State a total of seven months from the time the districts were held to be unconstitutional, which is longer than it took the 2011 legislature to redistrict the entire state.”
“While special elections have costs, those costs pale in comparison to the injury caused by allowing citizens to continue to be represented by legislators elected pursuant to a racial gerrymander,” the judges wrote Tuesday, adding that despite concerns about lower voter turnout, “a special election in the fall of 2017 is an appropriate remedy.”
North Carolina Republicans are already gearing up to appeal what they are calling a “politically motivated” decision, asserting that the ruling is in direct violation with the state constitution’s directive that House and Senate members are elected to serve two-terms.
Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, and Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, claimed in a joint release that the ruling “would effectively undo the will of millions of North Carolinians just days after they cast their ballots.”
The judges’ order said special elections would choose new legislators in the 28 districts and in other districts that must be redrawn to comply with their gerrymandering decision.
While less than twenty percent of the 170 districts statewide were found to be unconstitutional by the court, every district is expected to be effected in some way, as each change to one district will inevitably change another.
In an earlier legal brief, attorneys for Lewis and Rucho said the General Assembly likely would have to redraw 116 districts because lines in surrounding districts must change, too.
The order directs North Carolina to hold a primary election for the effected districts in either late August or early September of 2017, with a general election to be held in November.