RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Republican legislative leaders said Thursday they plan to approve new election districts by the end of this month, as they negotiate among themselves about what those districts should look like and prepare for legal challenges in court.
Republicans are redrawing North Carolina’s 14 congressional districts as well as the districts for the 170 seats in the state House and Senate.
If the General Assembly enacts the new districts by late October, it will leave a few weeks before candidate filing begins on Dec. 4. North Carolina’s primary election is on March 5, 2024.
“Like every other bill we’ve got, you’ve got to reach agreement to move forward and we’re working diligently to make that happen between the two chambers,” said Sen. Ralph Hise (R-Mitchell). “The end of the month was established for that purpose to make sure we can meet all the goals to not have to make any changes to the primary schedule.”
Lawsuits are common after the legislature adopts new districts. With Republicans now holding a majority of seats on the state Supreme Court, Meredith College political analyst David McLennan says legal challenges are likely to be filed in federal court instead.
“The timing of the release could make lawsuits much more difficult to have an effect on the 2024 elections. I mean, that may be a strategic decision,” he said. “And the longer they go, the longer it takes for people to decide whether they’re going to run in a particular congressional district or not, so it puts some burden on the candidates as well.”
This time, lawmakers are drawing the maps privately in rooms that are not accessible to the public.
Following litigation in 2019, a court ordered lawmakers to conduct the process in public. Republicans did that, livestreaming the process online and allowing members of the public to come and go from the rooms where the maps were being drawn. They voluntarily continued that practice in 2021 but are not doing so this time.
House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) pointed to the significant staff resources required for the public viewing and to the fact that the courts ended up striking down the maps in 2021 as being unconstitutionally gerrymandered to benefit Republican candidates.
Speaker Moore said, “It took a lot to go through that process. So, if it wasn’t gonna result in anything beneficial, why go through it?”
North Carolina’s congressional delegation is currently split between seven Republicans and seven Democrats. The redrawn districts could help the GOP gain three to four seats, which could prove significant given the narrow margin in the U.S. House of Representatives. Lawmakers in several other states are also redrawing districts as well, including in New York, which could benefit Democrats.
Sen. Natasha Marcus (D-Mecklenburg) pointed to the reduced transparency in North Carolina this year and said, “And, of course, they’re not asking for anybody’s input: the public, Democrats. It’s all being done in secret just like they did the budget.”
As that process continues, Speaker Moore also said lawmakers will be back in Raleigh Tuesday to vote on whether to override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s vetoes of various bills, including two that will impact the 2024 election.
One bill makes various changes including moving up the deadline for mail-in ballots to Election Day. The second bill restructures state and county election boards to make them evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. Those boards are majority Democratic, as the governor is currently a Democrat. The legislature would also take power from the governor to appoint people to those boards.
Gov. Cooper said the bill is unconstitutional. Courts have thrown out previous attempts to make a similar change. Voters also rejected a proposed amendment to the state constitution in 2018.
Sen. Hise said Republicans wanted to “make sure that that’s balanced within our state, and that’s why we passed it as a law. We still stand and believe that should be the law, and that’s why we intend to override the governor.”
Sen. Marcus said she’s concerned about the potential for the boards to deadlock on important issues like certifying election results or establishing early voting sites. Under state law, a county could default to a single early voting site if that issue can’t be resolved.
“This is the garbage we get when they feel like they need to feed red meat to their base. It is making things worse not better,” said Marcus. “That’s ridiculous. They shouldn’t do it. And, I hope the voters won’t stand for it.”