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Judges: New North Carolina Congress map will be used in 2020

From staff and wire reports

RALEIGH — North Carolina judges ordered that a new U.S. House district map that Republican state legislators drew last month be used in the 2020 elections, deciding Monday there is not enough time to scrutinize the boundaries for extreme partisan bias.

The ruling means Rowan County will be contained within one congressional district — the 13th, currently represented by Davie County Republican Ted Budd. Rep. Richard Hudson’s 8th District will start at the Cabarrus County line and also include Stanly County.

The three-judge panel unanimously decided it is too late in the election cycle to receive evidence and testimony that would be necessary to consider detailed redistricting arguments from the lawmakers and from Democratic and independent voters who have challenged the latest congressional maps.

The primary for hundreds of state and local elected offices is March 3, and candidate filing opened Monday. The judges had suspended congressional filings for all 13 seats while they reviewed the case, but Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway said from the bench the State Board of Elections can now start accepting filings from U.S. House hopefuls. The N.C. Board of Elections followed his statement Monday afternoon by announcing it was officially accepting filings.

“There’s simply not sufficient time to fully develop the factual record necessary to decide the constitutional challenges to the new congressional districts without significantly delaying the primary elections,” Ridgeway said. “It is time for the citizens to vote.”

While 10 of the 13 current U.S. House members are Republicans in a state considered a presidential battleground, the new map would appear to give Democrats a good chance of picking up two seats in 2020. The party currently holds three seats. The additional Democratic victories could help the party retain control of the U.S. House next year.

In late October, the same judges blocked the use of the 13 district boundaries approved in 2016 because they said they were likely unlawful partisan gerrymanders. While not ordering a new map, the judges had suggested a delayed primary could be avoided if lawmakers redrew the map quickly.

By Nov. 15, the General Assembly approved a replacement with district lines that appear to threaten the re-elections of GOP Reps. George Holding of Raleigh and Mark Walker of Greensboro.

But the voters who sued over the 2016 map said the new boundaries were still unlawful partisan gerrymanders that violate the state constitution. They pointed to data showing 10 of the districts remain extreme partisan outliers compared to “nonpartisan” maps created by a redistricting expert, packing Democrats into five districts so that the others are noncompetitive. They wanted the judges to hire a third-party expert to draw them again.

Lawyers for Republican legislators said the case was moot because they created a map that complied with the state court’s suggestions to perform the drawing in public and without the use of partisan data.

“Although one can certainly argue that the process was flawed or that the result is far from ideal, the net result is that the previously flawed 2016 congressional map has been replaced,” Ridgeway said.

Lawyers for both sides made oral arguments Monday before Ridgeway read the panel’s decision.

The plaintiffs — whose lawsuit has been bankrolled by a national Democratic group — did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the decision. They could still ask state appeals courts to intervene.

Republican lawmakers were pleased with the ruling, which they said stopped a concerted effort by the Democratic Party to get judges to redraw boundaries that favored the party.

“It’s time now to stop the endless litigation and out-of-state lawyering around North Carolina’s redistricting process and let the people determine their congressional representatives,” state GOP Reps. David Lewis and Destin Hall said in a news release.

The GOP-controlled General Assembly was ordered in September to redraw dozens of state legislative districts by these same judges, who declared those boundaries were illegal partisan gerrymanders. Both congressional and legislative districts will be redrawn in 2021, based on 2020 census figures.

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