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Thursday, December 7, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Thursday, December 7, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Elections Board Accused of Gerrymandering

(CN) - A black advocacy group accuses a North Carolina county elections board of racial gerrymandering in a lawsuit filed last week.

Raleigh Wake Citizens Association Inc. and a group of voters sued North Carolina Sens. Chad Barefoot and Philip Berger, state house speaker Tim Moore and the Wake County Board of Elections in Federal Court.

Session Law 2015-4 was passed by the North Carolina General Assembly and establishes a new seven-district system for electing candidates to the Wake County Board of County Commissioners, according to the complaint. It takes effect beginning with the 2016 elections.

"Session Law 2015-4 increases the size of the Wake County Board of Commissioners; adopts a system of seven-single member districts to be used in 2018, and two super-districts to be used in 2016; shortens the terms of commissioners elected at-large from residency districts in 2016; strips from the county commission the authority they otherwise have under state law to alter their method of election, and purports to prohibit any further change in the method of election by session law, until after the return of the 2020 census," the complaint states.

The citizens organization says Barefoot introduced the bill after Democrats won four open county commissioner board seats in 2014. It alleges that the new districts were drawn up to favor Republicans.

"Plaintiffs are voters and an association of voters who live in election districts that under Session Law 2015-4 are overpopulated to a significant degree, depriving them of the ability to cast a vote that carries the same weight as voters who live in underpopulated districts. The reasons for the population variations among these districts are not legitimate, neutral reasons," the complaint states. "Instead, the general assembly imposed a new system of seven single-member districts and two super districts for several illegitimate purposes, including in order to create a partisan advantage for Republican voters, and to give unequal greater weight to the votes of suburban and rural Wake County voters compared to that of urban Wake County voters."

Three districts are overpopulated compared to four other districts under the new plan and precincts were split to create one black-majority district, according to the complaint. The lawsuit alleges the redistricting amounts to racial gerrymandering, particular in District 4, where a number of the plaintiffs live.

"Race was the predominant factor determining the boundaries, shape and composition of District 4 in the seven-district plan established by Session Law 2015-4," the complaint states. "The use of race as the predominant factor with respect to District 4 is not narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest."

The plaintiffs seek a declaration that the election method and district plan in question are unconstitutional. They also want an injunction stopping the elections board from enforcing Session Law 2015-4. The association and the individual plaintiffs are represented by Anita Earls of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice in Durham, N.C.

The Raleigh Wake Citizens Association is a nonprofit advocacy group whose goal "is to empower racial minorities in Raleigh and Wake County," according to the complaint. It claims to be Raleigh's oldest black political organization.

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