Judges’ ruling on North Carolina voting map could affect US congressional control


Jan. 6 (Reuters) – A legal battle over whether North Carolina’s new congressional map illegally favors Republicans over Democrats heads to a panel of judges, one of many lawsuits that could influence who controls Congress after this year’s midterm elections.

Lawyers for Democratic voters and advocacy groups told a trio of state Superior Court judges in Raleigh on Thursday that the card, which the Republican-controlled legislature approved in November, effectively deprives Democratic voters of representation by ensuring that Republicans will win a majority of seats under almost any circumstance.

But an attorney for Republican lawmakers argued the redistribution process was legal and transparent, and he argued that courts cannot reasonably determine when partisan considerations have crossed the line.

Register now for FREE and unlimited access to Reuters.com


Judges are expected to render a decision by Tuesday, after the four-day trial that ended Thursday.

Election analysts say Republicans would be favored to win at least 10 of the state’s 14 congressional seats under the new map, despite North Carolina‘s status as a tightly divided swing state. Republicans currently hold eight of the 13 districts; the state gains a seat due to population growth.

Republicans only need to overthrow a handful of seats in the Nov. 8 election to regain control of the United States House of Representatives, where Democrats currently hold a 221-212 advantage, including positions vacant.

U.S. law requires states to redraw their congressional ridings every 10 years using U.S. census data to account for population changes. Many states allow lawmakers to create the maps, which can lead to gerrymandering, the process by which a political party manipulates district boundaries to strengthen its own power.

According to New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, there are more than a dozen pending lawsuits challenging congressional cards in at least six states, including Texas, Ohio and Georgia.

Plaintiffs in North Carolina, including the North Carolina League of Conservation Voters, claim the new map is both racially discriminatory and illegally partisan, in violation of the state’s constitution. The case also involves new maps for the state’s legislative districts.

The plaintiffs’ experts testified that the Congress map drawn by the Republicans was an outlier compared to thousands of computer-generated maps.

“He’s the most extreme Republican gerrymander there is,” Elisabeth Theodore, a lawyer for some of the complainant voters, said in oral argument Thursday. “This card is deliberately designed to ignore the will of the people expressed through their votes.”

Phil Strach, an attorney for Republican lawmakers, argued that any card should favor Republicans, since Democratic voters tend to cluster in urban areas. But he also questioned whether the courts should even engage in the analysis requested by the plaintiffs.

“What is the line between permissible and inadmissible partisan considerations when making a map? ” he said. “The point is, that is an unanswered question.”

The state Supreme Court moved the scheduled primary elections in North Carolina from March to May to allow the case to continue. Regardless of the decision, the case will likely end up in the High Court after the appeals.

Register now for FREE and unlimited access to Reuters.com


Report by Joseph Ax; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Cynthia Osterman

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


Comments are closed.