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Coalition lawsuit challenges redistricted maps as unconstitutional

Senator Ralph Hise and Senator Warren Daniels are Co-Chairs of the North Carolina Senate Redistricting and Elections Committees.
Courtesy of NC Legislature
Senator Ralph Hise and Senator Warren Daniels are Co-Chairs of the North Carolina Senate Redistricting and Elections Committees.

Western North Carolina legislators are named in a gerrymandering lawsuit filed jointly by individual Black voters, NAACP North Carolina State Conference and Common Cause.

Senator Warren Daniel (R-46) and Senator Ralph Hise(R-47) are both named in their official capacities as Co-Chairs of the North Carolina Senate Redistricting and Elections Committees.

The complaint is the third lawsuit filed in recent weeks, but the only one that also includes all districts, according to WRAL.

The complaint stated that the new district lines are unconstitutional and intentionally discriminate against Black voters in the Senate, House, and Congressional maps.

While no western North Carolina residents are named as plaintiffs, the lawsuit has statewide implications, NC NAACP President Deborah Dicks Maxwell said.

“We are not three-fifths of anyone anymore. The year is 2023, and as we prepare to go to 2024, we want the vote of everyone … in this state to count,” Maxwell said on a press call. “Every vote should be equally weighted and not determined just because of your color within this state or any state in this country.”

Neither WNC senator was immediately available for comment. Hise and Daniel are both running for re-election in 2024. Both have been in office for seven terms. Before the last election, Hise's district lines were extended to include part of Haywood County.

The redistricting effort was marked by far less public input than previous sessions to gain perspective on the potential maps.

There were only three public hearings held in Raleigh, Elizabeth City and Hickory before the map drawing began, WUNC reported. That’s compared to 60 hearings held in the 2011 redistricting cycle, according to the complaint.

"All three of these public comment [sessions] are in addition to the body of work that we've done for years now," Hise said referring to 13 public comment sessions held in 2021.

Despite the two WNC senators chairing the committees, Hickory in Catawba County was the furthest west location for the public hearings. The city is more than three hours from Murphy, the westernmost county seat in the state.

At the September 26 hearing in Hickory, speakers noted the lack of language access, excessive drive time and difficulty in attending the hearing and mentioned members of the public that wanted to attend but could not, the complaint alleged.

Residents from as far west as Transylvania County made the trek to the redistricting hearing, according to the Hickory Record.

The coalition said they hope the maps will be updated before the 2026 election cycle.

“We're seeking relief for the 2026 election in our complaint...and we believe there is ample time between now and when that election cycle starts," Hilary Klein, senior counsel for the voting rights program at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, said.

There certainly are Black voters in WNC, Klein said they are not in the complaint "because of the lower concentrations.”

Attorneys with Southern Coalition for Social Justice and Hogan Lovells are representing the plaintiffs in the case.

Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.
Felicia Sonmez is a reporter covering growth and development for Blue Ridge Public Radio.