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Federal Court Orders NC to Redraw Districts, Hold Elections in Fall of 2017

Associated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Federal judges told the North Carolina legislature Tuesday to redraw its own districts by mid-March to replace ones the judges previously struck down and to hold a special election using the new maps in November 2017.

The ruling means those elected to the state House and Senate a few weeks ago would serve just one year, not two as expected.

The same three-judge panel last summer said 28 of the General Assembly’s 170 districts were illegal racial gerrymanders, but decided it was too late in the election cycle to redraw new maps and conduct elections under them this month.

Attorneys representing legislative mapmakers wanted until next July to redraw boundaries and hold elections at the next usual election date in November 2018. Lawyers for the voters who successfully sued to overturn the districts wanted new maps in place in late January and said it wasn’t right for voters to have to wait another two years to cast ballots under lawful maps.

“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.”

Republican lawmakers who helped draw the original maps in 2011 said Tuesday night that they’ll appeal the decision, which they called “politically motivated” and in blatant disregard of the state constitution’s directive that House and Senate members are elected to serve two-year terms.

The ruling “would effectively undo the will of millions of North Carolinians just days after they cast their ballots,” Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, and Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, said in a release.

Anita Earls, one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers praised the ruling. “A special election in the affected districts in 2017 is the best way to protect the rights of all North Carolinians,” she said. All 170 districts will be on the ballot.

Last August, the same panel — U.S. Circuit Judge Jim Wynn and District Judges Catherine Eagles and Thomas Schroeder — unanimously declared that GOP legislators had failed to justify creating so many majority-black districts.