GREENSBORO A U.S. federal court has ruled that North Carolina will not need to hold special elections prior to November 2018 for legislative voting districts that the court deemed were unconstitutionally gerrymandered just one year ago. However, the same three-judge panel that struck down the Republican drawn 2011 legislative districts last year, also ordered state lawmakers to redraw the maps by September 1, 2017, albeit with a little wiggle room. The order read that if the Republican-led General Assembly is transparent in drawing the remedial districts on or before August 21, the court will extend the deadline to September 15, 2017.Members of the joint Redistricting Committee convened last week for “organizational and informational purposes” as they described a crude framework for how they envisioned the map-drawing effort would proceed while anticipating further guidance from the court.”If the court allows us ample time to do so, we intend to include as much public input as possible and as much input from the committees and ultimately the full General Assembly will deliberate together regarding these new districts,” said Redistricting Committee Chairman Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett). “Our attorneys will advocate on behalf of the General Assembly for a timeline that will allow for a redistricting session to occur in early November.”While the court denied the legislature’s proposed timeline, it also ruled that the plaintiffs suggested deadline of August 11 was too little time for the General Assembly to “conduct public hearings and engage in robust deliberations.”Now that the court has mandated a September 1 deadline, it is unclear how much and when public input will be incorporated into the process. Prior to the ruling, the Redistricting Committee announced plans for public hearings in August, September, and October.Despite the tighter deadline, political insiders say that the maps will be complete ahead of that contingency deadline. Lawmakers return to Raleigh this week with the Joint Redistricting Committee scheduled to convene on Thursday.Of note, during the meeting last Wednesday it was announced that consultant Thomas Hofeller, the mapmaker who consulted the Republican leaders on the 2011 maps, some of which are now ruled unconstitutional, will again be consulting legislative leadership for the special redistricting session.The three-judge panel heard arguments last week from attorneys on both sides of the issue. Having issued court orders to redraw the gerrymandered maps nearly a year ago, the judges questioned attorneys for the legislative leadership on why more had not been accomplished to comply with the court’s decision and rectify the maps. The federal judicial panel ruled last year that 28 of the 170 legislative districts in the state must be redrawn, finding they illegally used race to gerrymander certain districts.During the hearing, attorneys for the legislative leadership argued for more time to construct a thorough and transparent process for redrawing maps, allowing for public input hearings, but ultimately failed to convince the judges of their preferred drafting schedule.”Legislative defendants have offered no evidence to support their contention that they need 3Â½ more months to remedy the constitutional violations identified by this court almost a year ago, nor have they offered any evidence that they have not begun to evaluate what the revised districts might look like,” the order said.Plaintiffs’ attorneys had argued for special elections to be held after new maps are drawn and before the regularly scheduled 2018 elections, but the request was denied. The court said the reasoning for the denial of special elections will be more fully explained in a forthcoming memorandum.Lewis previously chided calls for special elections, arguing that they would do a disservice to voters.The next steps for the Redistricting Committee, meeting August 4, will be to discuss and select the criteria to be used in redrawing the final maps. It was announced that public terminals would also be available for interested parties to draw maps that could be offered as input during the public hearings.
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