RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina voting-rights advocates sued Tuesday to overturn all of the redistricting plans drawn by Republicans and being used starting with 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 accuse GOP legislative leaders of intentionally moving this fall boundary lines for General Assembly and congressional districts in part so that many Black voters will be prevented from having the opportunity to elect their preferred candidates. Instead, the plaintiffs contend, Black voting blocs are submerged into districts with white majorities that don’t normally vote for Black candidates.
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.
Tuesday’s lawsuit marks at least the third 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.
While the plaintiffs wrote they want the maps thrown out so no elections can be held under them — alleging violations of the U.S. Constitution, the federal Voting Rights Act and another law — their goal doesn’t aim to block their use for next year’s elections. Instead, the lawsuit seeks remedial maps be enacted for use no later than the 2026 general election.
Hilary Klein with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers, told reporters that timing and logistics of their lawsuit made seeking a resolution for this year’s elections difficult. Candidate filing closed Friday for the March 5 primary elections, and the first primary absentee ballots will be disbursed to voters on Jan. 19. She also blamed in part a five-month delay between legislators stating they would redraw maps and the public hearings for new plans in September.
House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger are among the lawsuit defendants. Their spokespeople didn’t respond immediately Tuesday to emails seeking comment. GOP lawmakers have previously defended their maps as lawful.
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.
The plaintiffs in Tuesday’s lawsuit focus largely on four of the state’s congressional districts, nine of the 50 state Senate districts and roughly 20 of the 120 state House districts. Many of them are located in counties and contain precincts where a disproportionate percentage of Black residents live compared to the entire state, which is more than 22% African American.
“Everyone’s vote should count equally, and there are people determined to make sure that Black votes are discounted,” state NAACP President Deborah Maxwell said Tuesday.
The lawsuit says Republican legislators adopted remapping criteria that excluded race, even though the U.S. Supreme Court in June ruled in an Alabama redistricting case that Black voting power in areas with high Black populations must be scrutinized to ensure Voting Rights Act compliance.
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. The plaintiffs in the Senate litigation have asked a federal judge to rule by Dec. 29 whether to block the use of the districts in the primaries while the case goes to court.
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 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.
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