North Carolina’s 2024 Election Maps Are Racially Biased, Advocates Say in Lawsuit

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina voting-rights advocates sued Tuesday to overturn all of the redistricting plans drawn by Republicans for the 2024 elections, saying legislative leaders unlawfully weakened the electoral influence of Black voters.

The North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, Common Cause and eight Black residents filed a lawsuit in federal court. They accused GOP legislative leaders of intentionally moving boundary lines for General Assembly and congressional districts this fall so that preferred candidates of Black voters lose to candidates backed by white voters. For decades, Black residents have overwhelmingly favored Democratic candidates.

“The General Assembly targeted predominantly Black voting precincts with surgical precision throughout the state in drawing and enacting the 2023 Plans, at the expense of traditional redistricting criteria, to achieve preferred district lines that diminish Black voters’ ability to elect candidates of their choice at all levels of government,” the lawsuit’s authors wrote.

The plaintiffs want the maps thrown out so that no elections can be held under them because, they argue, the new districts violated the U.S. Constitution, the federal Voting Rights Act and another law.

But that may be difficult to accomplish. Candidate filing closed Friday for the March 5 primary elections, and the first primary absentee ballots will be disbursed to voters on Jan. 19. At the very least, the lawsuit says, remedial maps need to be enacted for use no later than the 2026 general election.

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Tuesday’s lawsuit marks the latest and most comprehensive litigation filed by voters since the Republican-dominated General Assembly enacted new maps in October for its own districts and for North Carolina’s congressional delegation that are designed to boost GOP clout for years to come.

The plaintiffs focus largely on four of the state’s 14 congressional districts, nine of the 50 state Senate districts and roughly 20 of the 120 state House districtis. Many of them are located in northeastern counties where a disproportionate percentage of Black residents live compared to the entire state, which is more than 22% African American.

Earlier this month close to 20 Black and Latino voters sued to strike down the new congressional districts, four of which they argue are illegal racial gerrymanders. And a lawsuit filed by two Black voters said two eastern North Carolina state Senate districts violate the Voting Rights Act through new boundaries that failed to create a majority-Black district in a region where white voters usually defeat candidates preferred by African American residents.

The plaintiffs in the state Senate litigation have asked a federal judge to rule by year’s end whether to block the use of the districts in the primary elections while the case goes to court. But the other lawsuits, including the one filed Tuesday, lack similar formal requests for speedy action.

The maps enacted in October put Republicans in good shape to win at least 10 of the state’s 14 congressional seats next November and to retain majorities in the state Senate and House, according to redistricting experts and statewide election data. The maps, if upheld, are supposed to be used through the 2030 elections.

Under the congressional map that had been drawn by state judges for the 2022 elections, Democrats and Republicans each won seven seats.

But the new congressional boundaries could help Republicans on Capitol Hill retain control of the U.S. House entering 2025. In recent weeks, three incumbent Democrats — Reps. Jeff Jackson, Kathy Manning and Wiley Nickel — decided not to seek reelection, saying the districts were so gerrymandered toward the GOP that it was futile to run in 2024.

While opponents of Republican maps argue publicly that the GOP’s lines are designed to squeeze out more electoral seats at the expense of Democrats, recent state and federal court rulings have neutered legal claims of illegal partisan gerrymandering.

That has appeared to narrow legal challenges to North Carolina redistricting maps largely to racial bias claims, as are used by the three lawsuits filed against the latest boundaries.

A panel of three judges composed of U.S. Circuit Judge Allison Rushing and District Judges Thomas Schroeder and Richard Myers will hear the congressional redistricting case. All three judges were nominated to their courts by Republican presidents.

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Voting-rights advocates in North Carolina have filed a lawsuit to challenge all the redistricting plans drawn by Republicans for the 2024 elections. The lawsuit, filed by the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, Common Cause, and eight Black residents, accuses GOP legislative leaders of intentionally redrawing boundary lines to weaken the electoral influence of Black voters and benefit white voters. The plaintiffs argue that the new districts violate the U.S. Constitution, the federal Voting Rights Act, and other laws. However, it may be challenging to overturn the maps as candidate filing for the primary elections has already closed. The lawsuit seeks remedial maps to be enacted no later than the 2026 general election. This lawsuit is the latest in a series of litigation filed by voters against the Republican-drawn redistricting plans. The plaintiffs focus on several congressional and state Senate districts that have a high proportion of Black residents. The new maps, if upheld, are expected to give Republicans an advantage in winning congressional seats and retaining majorities in the state Senate and House. The lawsuit argues that the new congressional boundaries could help Republicans retain control of the U.S. House in 2025. Recent court rulings have weakened legal claims of illegal partisan gerrymandering, narrowing the lawsuits to focus on racial bias claims. A panel of three judges, all nominated by Republican presidents, will hear the congressional redistricting case.

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