This summer, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina agreed with plaintiffs who alleged that 2011 legislative maps drawn by the Republican-controlled legislature were racially gerrymandered.
A three-judge panel consisting of two Democratic appointees and one Republican appointee found that some districts were designed to concentrate African-American voters — by and large, Democrats — into their own districts so that Republicans could make gains in other areas.
Nine senate districts and 19 house districts were singled out in the ruling, which resulted in an order from the court to the legislature to redraw the districts, even though the maps were approved by the U.S. Justice Department twice previously.
However, as the order was issued on Aug. 11, judges recognized that there was “insufficient time, at this late date,” for the legislature to redraw the districts, for the court to review the districts and for the state to conduct a candidate-filing period and a primary election before the general election, despite the Nov. 8 election’s “unconstitutionality.”
Thus the Nov. 8 election results will stand, and those state legislators elected therein will by court order serve a one-year term, despite that order conflicting with Section 8 of North Carolina’s Constitution, which says that elections for the legislature “shall be held for the respective districts in 1972 and every two years thereafter.”
Legislators have until March 17, 2017, to submit new maps to the court, and must also set a primary election in late August or early September. The general election would coincide with municipal general elections scheduled for that November.
Although the 28 districts in question are nowhere near Western North Carolina — most center around Charlotte, Durham, Fayetteville, Greensboro, Raleigh and Winston-Salem — nobody seems to know how many will be redrawn. Logic dictates that one district cannot be redrawn without affecting others surrounding it, but how far west will that go?
Sen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin, doesn’t see his far-western district being affected by the ruling — but if it is, he’s planning on running again.
“Those nine [senate districts] will affect maybe 20 others,” he said. “But who knows, with these judges.”
State Rep. Michele Presnell, R-Burnsville, doesn’t agree with the court’s ruling and says she initially thought that there could be a “domino effect” leading to a complete redraw. However she also said she’s now hearing that won’t happen. If her district gets tweaked, she said she’s still running.
Rhonda Cole Schandevel, D-Canton, was soundly defeated by Presnell Nov. 8 but says she’s keeping her options open in the event of a redraw.
Outgoing Rep. Joe Sam Queen, D-Waynesville, narrowly lost his re-election contest to Mike Clampitt, R-Bryson City, and sees things differently than Presnell.
“There’s no doubt about it,” he said of the districts. “They were gerrymandered for political advantage.”
Queen also wasn’t certain if a statewide redraw would happen, but opined that the Republicans doing the drawing would do whatever they thought might give them an advantage, meaning that a comprehensive overhaul could take place.
While Queen wouldn’t commit to trying to take his old seat back from Clampitt — who he’d beaten twice prior to the Nov. 8 election — he did say he was keeping his options open, like Schandevel.
“I will continue to advocate for Western North Carolina, and see how I can best do that,” he said.
Clampitt, for his part, wants to see what the Supreme Court says before committing to anything.
“Let’s wait and see how things shake out before putting any eggs out there to hatch,” he said. “I want to let the legal process do its thing before making any determinations.”
Whoever runs in this peculiar election will probably see circumstances favor Democratic candidates, since the urban areas already holding municipal elections tend to have more Democratic voters in them.
General Election results also found a good number of Democrats voting for Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump, especially in Haywood County. Should he fail to please them over the next nine months, the surge that propelled Republicans like Clampitt into office could fizzle out in 2017.
The election that put Clampitt into the state house office also leaves Haywood County without a representative from within its own borders.
While not racially gerrymandered, Haywood County is grotesquely split between two house districts, with Clampitt representing the Waynesville core westward into Jackson and Swain counties and Presnell representing the outlying areas as well as Madison and Yancey counties to the east. Haywood County is the most populous county in either district, despite even having a split precinct – Ivy Hill, part of which votes in Presnell’s district, and part of which votes in Clampitt’s.