The United States Supreme Court declined late Friday to stay a lower court ruling that has forced North Carolina’s Republican-dominated legislature to redraw its congressional electoral maps on the grounds that the original maps amounted to racial gerrymandering. As a result, the state must now follow a contingency plan, also devised by Republican lawmakers, that tries to comply with the lower court’s ruling by making significant changes to the boundaries of the some of the state’s 13 congressional districts. The changes take effect less than one month before the originally scheduled March 15 primary, which has forced the legislature to set up a second election dedicated exclusively to the congressional primaries, which will now take place June 7. The contingency plan was approved by the state legislature on Friday, hours before the Supreme Court announced that it had rejected North Carolina Republicans’ application for a stay. But the approval of the contingency plan came over the strenuous objection of Democrats, who claimed that the new congressional maps were hyperpartisan — giving Republicans 10 safe districts to the Democrats’ three — and still failed to protect black voters’ interests.
Such resistance was to be expected in this deeply divided swing state, where other battles over election laws can potentially affect presidential elections. Since Republicans took control of the legislature five years ago, Democrats and their allies have complained that Republicans have been illegally changing the rules of the voting game and effectively suppressing minority voting power. They have mounted numerous legal challenges, which Republicans have largely dismissed as desperate attempts by Democrats to regain their faltering political strength.
But North Carolina now faces a chaotic situation just when some voters have already begun sending in absentee ballots under the old congressional districting scheme. Under the new plan, two members of Congress, Representatives George Holding, a Republican from Raleigh, and Alma Adams, a Democrat from Greensboro, will be drawn into new districts.