More lawsuits expected over NC election districts, experts say

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — A federal lawsuit filed this week challenging the new districts for the North Carolina State Senate is likely just the first of what could be multiple cases, according to experts.

Following the passage of newly drawn North Carolina Senate districts in the General Assembly last month, two individuals are formally challenging them in court.

“I don’t think we should expect that this is the last lawsuit on these maps,” said Chris Cooper, an expert on state politics at Western Carolina University. “So, this is the first battle of what I would expect would be a multi-battle war.”

In addition to redrawing the state Senate districts, Republicans also redrew the maps for the state House of Representatives and North Carolina’s 14 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The lawsuit filed on Monday said the new Senate district map “unlawfully deprives Black voters of the opportunity to elect candidates of their choice.”

In particular, plaintiffs Rodney Pierce and Moses Matthew claim the bill violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

According to the lawsuit, the bill was enacted despite having “ample evidence of racially polarizing voting and a history of discrimination in the ‘Black Belt counties’ of northeastern North Carolina.”

Having such evidence, the plaintiffs said there is an obligation under the Voting Rights Act to analyze it before drawing lines.

Republican Senate leaders have not responded to a request for comment.

When the GOP unveiled the new districts last month, they repeated in committee meetings and during debate that they considered political data but not racial data in drawing the districts.

“The chairs elected not to use race in drawing these proposed districts, strictly to protect the state from lawsuits alleging illegal racial gerrymandering,” said Sen. Ralph Hise (R-Mitchell).

The passage of the new maps is also considered in the lawsuit to be the “the most recent episode in North Carolina’s long history of race discrimination generally and race-based vote suppression in particular.”

Following the filing of the lawsuit, Pierce and Matthew are seeking an order that would:

  1. declare that SB 758 violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act,

  2. prohibit future elections to be conducted under SB 758, and

  3. require a remedial plan that includes a minority opportunity district in N.C.’s “Black Belt” counties.

The lawsuit names President Pro Tem of the N.C. Senate Phil Berger and N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore as defendants along with the entire N.C. State Board of Elections, including Alan Hirsch, Chairman Alan Hirsch, Secretary Jeff Carmon III, and members Stacy Eggers IV, Kevin Lewis, and Siobhan Millen.

The plaintiffs have asked the court to move forward on an expedited timeline, asking for a decision on their request for a preliminary injunction by Friday, Dec. 1. Candidates are scheduled to begin filing to run for office on Dec. 4.

Cooper says while court cases in years past have led to changes in the state’s primary election schedule, it’s unclear at this point if this case could lead to next year’s primary on March 5 being delayed.

While the case focuses on districts in the northeastern part of the state, it could have significance for the balance of power in North Carolina.

Republicans currently have the exact number of seats they need in both the House and Senate to have a supermajority capable of overriding Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s vetoes.

Democrats need to flip just one seat next year to change that.

“This is a state consistently decided on a knife’s edge,” said Cooper. “Pretty much no one thinks the Democrats are going to get the majority control. That’s not really up for debate. This is about supermajority or no supermajority.”

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