A panel of federal judges that deemed North Carolina’s congressional maps to be unconstitutionally gerrymandered ruled Tuesday that those same maps should be used for the November election, citing “insufficient time” to create new ones.
Liberals cheered the judges’ ruling last week that the maps were unconstitutional; the panel determined that Republicans, who control the state Legislature, had drawn districts to give themselves an unfair partisan advantage. But the decision also sent stabs of anxiety through the state’s political class because it left open the possibility that candidates might have to compete in new primaries or run in freshly drawn districts with just two months before the midterms.
There was also some worry that government officials, had they been ordered to redraw the maps for this election cycle, would not be able to print ballots in time to meet a Sept. 22 deadline for mailing absentee ballots to service members and voters overseas.
The court had given the parties in the lawsuit challenging the maps until Friday to file briefs on whether the state should be allowed to use the old maps in the Nov. 6 election. The judges wrote Tuesday that there was not enough time “to approve a new districting plan and for the State to conduct an election using that plan prior to the seating of the new Congress in January 2019.”
Moreover, a new elections schedule would “likely confuse voters and depress turnout,” the judges wrote.
The decision disappointed some Democrats, who had hoped that newly drawn districts might have made some congressional races more competitive this year. Even though the vote totals of North Carolina Democrats and Republicans have been roughly even recently, the court ruled last week that the district lines drawn by Republicans helped that party win 10 of the state’s 13 House seats.
In a statement Tuesday, Phil Berger, the Republican leader of the state Senate, said that the ruling “has removed the last remaining obstacle to printing ballots, and it’s time for the state Board of Elections to do their job and print them as soon as possible.”
North Carolina Democrats suffered another defeat on election matters Tuesday when the state Supreme Court rebuffed an effort by Gov. Roy Cooper to remove from the ballot two Republican-backed constitutional amendment proposals. Cooper, a Democrat, is arguing in a lawsuit that the ballot language in the amendments is misleading.
The amendments would limit the governor’s power to fill judicial vacancies and remove the state Board of Elections from his control. Critics of the measures say they amount to a continuing power grab by statehouse Republicans.
Ford Porter, a spokesman for Cooper, noted that the state Supreme Court had formally denied a temporary restraining order that would have stopped the ballots from being printed, and that the merits of the case had not yet been decided.
For now, Porter said, the governor would “continue to urge voters to understand their true impact.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
Richard Fausset © 2018 The New York Times