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Court delays North Carolina filing for legislative, U.S. House seats

Protesters against gerrymandering at a March 2019 rally coinciding with Supreme Court hearings on major redistricting cases. After the court said the federal judiciary has no role in partisan redistricting cases, legal action is focused on state courts.
Protesters against gerrymandering at a March 2019 rally coinciding with Supreme Court hearings on major redistricting cases. After the court said the federal judiciary has no role in partisan redistricting cases, legal action is focused on state courts.

A North Carolina appeals court has halted for now candidate filing for U.S. House and state legislative seats while judges consider whether to block district boundaries that lawsuit filers claim are illegal partisan gerrymanders.

A North Carolina appeals court on Monday halted for now candidate filing for U.S. House and state legislative seats while judges there consider whether to block the use of district boundaries that lawsuit filers claim are illegal partisan gerrymanders.

With minimal advance warning for candidates and state elections officials, a Court of Appeals order directed state and local officials not to begin accepting candidates for those seats, which was supposed to begin at noon. Filing for other positions — including U.S. Senate, judicial seats and city and county positions — began as scheduled in Raleigh and at county election offices in all 100 counties.

The decision means candidates seeking to file as soon as they could for 170 General Assembly and 14 U.S. House seats up for election in 2022 had to be turned away. Congressional hopefuls who want to file in person must do so in Raleigh.

“There were some congressional candidates particularly that (were) caught off guard because some of them have traveled obviously across the state to get here today to be ready for filing,” State Board of Elections Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell said in an interview.

Bell's office cited U.S. Rep. Alma Adams, who represents the Charlotte area, as the most prominent candidate turned away from the candidate filing at the State Fairgrounds in Raleigh.

The temporary stay was sought by and granted to the plaintiffs in a lawsuit led by the North Carolina League of Conservation Voters. They allege the maps approved by the Republican-controlled General Assembly are unlawfully designed to secure GOP control of the legislature and for the party to win at least 10 of the state’s 14 U.S. House seats. A panel of three trial judges refused Friday the plaintiffs' requests to block elections from occurring under the plans.

The league’s attorneys, in asking for the temporary delay earlier Monday, told the appeals court there would be “needless waste and inconvenience” should candidates file in what they consider “unlawfully drawn districts.”

“Needless aggravation may ensue if the state board must throw out existing candidacies and start over,” they wrote.

The order of the intermediate-level appeals court told lawyers for Republican legislative leaders and the state to respond to the league's arguments by midday Thursday. The candidate filing period for the March 8 primary is supposed to continue through noon Dec. 17. The league wants the primary date pushed backed to May.

League Executive Director Carrie Clark said she was pleased with the ruling: "There is more work ahead to get these maps overturned and fair maps adopted, and we will continue to fight to protect our democracy.”

Republican legislative leaders have said the maps were lawfully drawn. Their lawyers told judges last week that while no political data was entered into mapmaking computers the General Assembly used, they also said state Supreme Court precedent allows the General Assembly to consider "partisan advantage” in drawing districts.

Bell said Board of Elections attorneys learned about the delay at 11:27 a.m., just 33 minutes ahead of the noon opening.

She added that candidate filing could be delayed a few days beyond the current Dec. 17 end date and keep the primary date in place, but not much more.

“We don’t have a lot of time for give or take on these dates,” Bell said, but "whatever they come up with, we’ll make it happen.”

Redistricting litigation forced some or all of the state’s primaries to be delayed many times, including in 2002, 2004 and 2016.

Copyright 2021 North Carolina Public Radio. To see more, visit North Carolina Public Radio.