Voters in North Carolina are caught in a heap of confusion as they approach their state’s March 15 primary election. A federal court ruled on February 5 that congressional district lines drawn in 2011 are invalid because they packed African American voters into two districts without just cause. A three-judge panel for the U.S. District Court in North Carolina has since charged the state’s general assembly with creating new district lines by February 19. Problem is, thousands of ballots have already been mailed out for the upcoming primary, which include both U.S. House and Senate races. Some of those ballots have already been cast under the state’s early absentee voting rules. The state filed an emergency appeal today asking the court to suspend the ruling until after after the primary elections, and is expected to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.
The plaintiffs in the case want the new lines drawn immediately, though, as ordered by the court. In their motion opposing the state’s request to hold off on the new redistricting, the plaintiffs write:
To be sure, North Carolina likely will incur additional cost and burden in altering its election plans to remedy the unconstitutional congressional plan, as it has done on numerous occasions in the past. But the irreparable constitutional injury Plaintiffs and all other North Carolinians will suffer if the stay is granted far outweigh any administrative injury North Carolina will suffer if the stay is denied.
This dilemma is just one of many cogs in the current voting cycle in North Carolina, which is both a swing state and a battleground state for national elections. The state is also entangled in several lawsuits around an election law it passed in 2013 that requires photo ID to vote, shrinks the early voting period, and disqualifies ballots cast in the right district, but wrong precinct. Challengers to that law want these measures undone before the upcoming primary as well.
“One thing remains clear,” as reporters for The Charlotte Observer write,“North Carolina again finds itself at the epicenter of the country’s voting wars, a 20-year court fight for power in mostly Southern states that slices across political and racial lines.”