By Barry Smith
Carolina Journal/State News Today
RALEIGH — While officials mull a request from a federal judge to submit new district maps for Wake County commissioner and school board elections, one longtime lawmaker says the U.S. Supreme Court could allow this year’s elections to be held under the disputed plans.
“Hopefully, the [House] speaker and the [Senate] president pro tem will attempt to intervene and ask the Supreme Court to do a stay,” said Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam, R-Wake.
Stam noted that House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, and Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, previously had been listed as defendants in the lawsuits challenging the maps. However, Stam said Moore and Berger were “involuntarily dismissed” as defendants by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
In 2013, the General Assembly redrew Wake County’s school board districts. The plan included two “super districts” and seven smaller districts. The same map was used when lawmakers redrew Wake County’s county commissioner districts in 2015.
Primaries for the county commissioner districts were held on March 15.
On Feb. 26, Dever ruled that the plaintiffs in the lawsuit challenging the maps had not proven their case. The plaintiffs appealed, and the 4th Circuit ruled in their favor on July 1, the day that filing closed for the school board elections.
“It’s very unusual to stop an election after it’s already started,” Stam said, adding that the commissioner candidates in the March 15 primary “spent a lot of money trying to get people to vote for them.”
Now that the appeals court has ruled, Dever will have the task of carrying out the ruling unless a higher court delays the effect of the 4th Circuit’s ruling. Dever has asked the State Board of Elections and leaders of the General Assembly to respond to him by July 18 regarding new redistricting plans.
Shelly Carver, a spokeswoman for Berger, and Andy Munn, a spokesman for Moore, said their legal teams are reviewing Dever’s order.
Dever also suggested that if the General Assembly was unwilling or unable to redraw maps for the 2016 elections, state law may permit the State Board of Elections to make temporary rules allowing for an election under new maps.
“We intend to respond to the court, indicating whether our agency is logistically capable, legally authorized, and willing to establish new districts,” Jackie Hyland, a spokeswoman for the State Board of Elections said in a statement. “Those questions are distinct, and we’re reviewing them separately.”
The board will meet to discuss the court order. Stam also noted that when the case went before the 4th Circuit, the office of state Attorney General Roy Cooper no longer was defending the districts since Berger and Moore had been dismissed as plaintiffs. That meant no one went to bat in the court for lawmakers who redrew the districts.
“You count on the fact that each side will be represented, so the truth will come out,” Stam said.
Since legislators’ attorneys weren’t there, they weren’t represented, he said.
Dever’s order states the 4th Circuit found the maps contained an “improper partisanship” which it considered an illegitimate reapportionment factor, though the districts were within 10 percent of each other in population — an acceptable standard deviation in an ideal district.
The 4th Circuit also remanded the case back to the District Court, saying that it saw “no reason why the November 2016 elections should proceed under the unconstitutional plans we strike down today.”
If the Supreme Court stays the 4th Circuit’s order, the November election could occur on schedule with the 2013-drawn districts in place.