News: CJ Exclusives

UPDATE: Fate of Wake County elections expected any day

Federal judge presiding over redistricting case says election plans must be in place by Wednesday to hold timely balloting in November

UPDATE: In an order issued Sunday, Dever gave Wake County officials until 4 p.m. to respond. According to WRAL News, the county must rank four options:

 

  • using the districts the 4th Circuit declared unconstitutional

  • reverting to the maps drawn in 2011 that lawmakers replaced with the unconstitutional maps

  • using illustrative maps put forward by Rep. Rosa Gill, D-Wake, during the trial

  • using illustrative maps put forward by state legislative leaders in court filings last week

Chief U.S. District Court Judge James Dever is poised to rule this week on the disputed Wake County commissioners and school board districts.

Dever issued an order on Thursday which included the mandate from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that Wake County school board districts enacted by the General Assembly in 2013 and identical county commissioner districts enacted in 2015 were unconstitutional because they violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

In the order, Dever noted that the Wake County Board of Elections is running out of time if it expects to hold elections this year. The general election is set for Nov. 8.

“Beginning Aug. 10, 2016, countless sequential deadlines must be met in order to have orderly elections in Wake County,” Dever wrote in his order. “The court promptly will review the record and the submissions, determine the appropriate remedy, and issue injunctive relief in accordance with the mandate and governing law.”

On Tuesday, Dever held a status hearing on the case. The next day, attorneys for the leaders of the General Assembly, Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, submitted new district maps to the court that deviated from the ideal district population by one resident.

Anita Earls, an attorney representing the plaintiffs in the litigation, filed a motion asking the court to invalidate the legislative leaders’ maps, saying the two leaders were not parties in the case.

Earls also said that the maps that were in place prior to the ones struck down by the appeals court should be used for this year’s elections. Her motion also said that the 2013 and 2015 maps enacted by the General Assembly did not contain a severability clause. Severability clauses are common in legislation covering broad topics because if parts of the legislation are struck down by the courts, the remaining portions can remain in place.

Last month, the 4th Circuit ruled that the school board districts and identical county commissioner districts violated the federal one-man, one-vote principle because of a wide variation in the population in the districts.

Dever previously had ruled that the maps passed constitutional muster. He noted last week that the General Assembly had moved school board elections from odd-numbered to even-numbered years, and if new maps were not approved in time to hold the Nov. 8 election as scheduled, Wake County voters would be denied an opportunity to elect a new school board.