New boundaries

Published 11:15 am Monday, February 22, 2016

RALEIGH – On Thursday, both the North Carolina House of Representatives and the Senate passed a bill to establish new US Congressional Districts.

As expected, the votes to approve the new map, which moved the boundaries for all 13 of the state’s Congressional Districts, came along strictly partisan lines.

The newly drawn boundaries in Congressional District 1 did not impact Bertie, Hertford or Northampton County. However, it does affect Gates County. That county was divided between the 1st and 3rd Congressional districts. The new map places all of Gates County in the 1st District.

In addition, both chambers of the General Assembly voted Thursday to keep the March 15 primary in place for all primaries or votes already scheduled, but hold the US Congressional Primary on June 7.

And the General Assembly also reopened the filing period for interested Congressional candidates from March 16 – March 25; outlines that any and all votes cast for Congressional races via absentee ballot on the March 15 primary date will remain confidential and will not be counted; changes the absentee ballot application deadline to 45 days prior to the June 7 primary to help ensure the State Board of Elections has enough time to print and mail ballots; and establishes that there will be no runoff primaries in the 2016 election cycle.

The three-judge panel deciding the case may approve or reject the new map as early as late yesterday, after the R-C News Herald deadline for today’s paper.

It was that same panel of Federal judges that declared two North Carolina US Congressional Districts unconstitutional on Feb. 5 and gave the state until Feb. 19 to redraw the districts.

The two districts declared unconstitutional were 1 and 12. District 1 is currently held by U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield.

He was running unopposed in the Mar. 15 primary, but that could change since the General Assembly voted Thursday and Friday to delay the US Congressional Primary until early June and to reopen the filing period for candidates.

Butterfield could, therefore, be challenged on June 7. Alma Adam, the District 12 representative, already faces a primary challenger.

For all other primaries, presidential, gubernatorial, and legislative, including votes on all local matters (such as the Northampton County supplemental tax to build a new school) the primary date will remain March 15.

State Representative Howard Hunter III, who represents three of the four counties in the Roanoke-Chowan area, blasted the map and all the other decisions made by Republican General Assembly as being more of the same.

“We think the three-judge panel will reject the map,” Hunter said. “It is just as bad as it was before.”

Hunter, a Democrat, added that Republicans said on the floor of House, openly, that this map would guarantee that 10 of the 13 Congressional districts would remain in Republican hands.

State Senator Erica Smith-Ingram (D-3rd District) concurred with Hunter in her outrage over the process and result.

“The process as well as the proposed plan are antithetical to the interests of our electorate that is diverse, and not the extreme partisan advantage resulting in 10-3 congressional delegation,” said Smith-Ingram, who resides in Northampton County.

“While it has been claimed that race was not a factor in drawing the district,” said Smith-Ingram, “the outcome of the resulting lines must be weighed so as not to result in segregation and disparate impacts for minority representation. The net effect is that these new maps have the potential of being deemed unconstitutional, and we will be back at square one.”

Hunter said he fully expects the three-judge panel to declare this map unconstitutional and the federal judges will force the state to hire a firm to fairly redraw the districts.

He and Smith-Ingram also strongly rejected the newly adopted plan to not hold runoffs in state primary contests.

Hunter said this year, several candidates running in a close contest; somebody could win with only a quarter of vote, instead of the traditional 40 percent plus one.

In the past if the winner only got 39 percent, the closest challenger could demand a runoff to determine who has the clear majority.

Smith-Ingram said, “The elimination of runoff elections is a consideration that could make or break so many contests up and down the ballot.”

She added, “However, it is one that is more transparent in my opinion as far as allowing the citizens to make the best choice for their prospective officials the first time, without the opportunity for a second chance vote or swaying of sides.

“It encourages responsibility on behalf of the voters to be informed, follow the process carefully and voice their concerns with this process at the polls,” she concluded.

As far as the newly redrawn Congressional map, Congressman Butterfield, recently said, “I take strong exception to several of the criteria adopted by the Joint Select Committee on Congressional Redistricting to be used in drawing a 2016 Congressional Plan.

“The enacted criteria do not comply with the U.S. Constitution, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, or basic fairness,” he said.

“The courts have held that there are limits to political gerrymandering and the current Republican gerrymandering of congressional districts does not account for the fact that there are more registered Democrats than Republicans in the state,” said Butterfield. “Therefore, the current 10 Republican to three Democrat composition of the NC congressional delegation should not be maintained. The criteria are inconsistent with the law and the committee should immediately adopt new standards for redrawing the maps.”

With the passage of the legislation approving the newly drawn congressional districts, State Board of Elections Executive Director Kim Westbrook Strach issued the following statement:

“Every NC voter should be confident their voice will be heard in all primary contests. In each election, voters should mark their preference in all contests—including candidates for U.S. House appearing on ballots in March. Vote the whole ballot and let us worry about what will count.

“We are proud of county elections officials and excited to announce there will be more early voting opportunities during the March Primary Election than in any past primary. We hope every voter participates on March 15 and June 7,” Strach concluded.