Lawyers ask court for special legislative elections in 2017


RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Voters who successfully sued to strike down nearly 30 North Carolina General Assembly districts told a federal court Friday they want new maps drawn by late January and a special legislative election sometime in 2017.

The lawyers for the voters filed a short report laying out an accelerated schedule they want the legislature to follow to replace the current boundaries. Republican legislative leaders, through their attorneys, offered their own competing proposal earlier Friday that would give them until next July to enact new maps and until November 2018 to hold elections, which would be in keeping with the current biennial schedule.

A three-judge panel last month determined 19 House and nine Senate districts were illegal racial gerrymanders. The judges decided it was too late in the election cycle to redraw new maps and conduct elections under them in November, so instead they directed the General Assembly to retool the districts in the 2017-2018 session.

The court has since asked the plaintiffs and legislative leaders for suggestions on how to proceed.

Under the voters’ proposed schedule, the legislature would have to enact new boundaries by Jan. 25, two weeks after the session begins. Lawmakers would have seven days after that to tell the court how they resolved the gerrymanders.

“This timeframe is essential to allow special elections to occur in 2017 under a reasonable election schedule,” the voters’ lawyers wrote. They did not provide a proposed special election date but suggested that a two-year state residency requirement in North Carolina’s constitution to run for the House and Senate may have to be modified.

Under the schedule proposed by General Assembly leaders, the legislature would have until next July 28, which they said would give them about the same amount of time it took them in 2011 to complete the current maps. Lawmakers also requested that legislators elected this November under current maps “be allowed to serve their full two-year term and that no special election for legislative offices be ordered for November 2017 or any other date.”

U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles in Greensboro, one of the three judges that wrote the unanimous opinion overturning the district boundaries, has asked both sides to provide briefs this fall to support their schedule. No date for a decision has been set.

Given that so many districts were found to be illegal, any mapmaking likely would require redrawing most if not all of the 120 House and 50 Senate districts.

The three-judge panel wrote last month that the 28 district maps violated the U.S. Constitution. In all but one of the maps, blacks comprised more than 50 percent of the voting-age population. The judges said there was no need for GOP legislative leaders to draw so many majority-black districts.

Republican lawmakers said drawing majority-black districts this way would help them overcome legal claims that they violated the U.S. Voting Rights Act, which prohibits racial discrimination in elections. They could still appeal the judges’ ruling.

The 2011 legislative maps, based on 2010 census data, aided Republicans in padding their majorities in the two chambers after they took control of the legislature.

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