What happens when an election is declared unlawful? That’s exactly what voters in North Carolina and Wisconsin will soon find out, after courts found multiple congressional and state legislative districts in North Carolina to be racial gerrymanders, and several state legislative districts in Wisconsin to be political ones. The rulings in essence mean North Carolina’s 2012 and 2014 congressional elections were conducted using unconstitutional districts; though its 2016 elections were conducted under redrawn districts, the lines will need rethinking for 2018. And in both states, the rulings mean that the past three state legislative elections were partly unconstitutional, including ones held last month. But these court decisions hardly mean the voting issues in these two states are settled. The complex legal and political fights over voting there have been ongoing over the past six years, and will continue. And those battles have consequences outside the state borders, too. Both states’ cases could soon be argued in front of the Supreme Court, and have the potential to set precedent ahead of a partisan redefinition of electoral laws that appears likely nationwide over the next few years. The Court will consider a number of cases in these states that might reinterpret the Voting Rights Act, redefine gerrymandering, and change the way voting works. So what’s next?
According to Michael Li, senior counsel for the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, the court system essentially has all the authority to figure out what voting will look like in North Carolina and Wisconsin going forward. “The court has broad power to construct a remedy when a map gets struck down for racial gerrymandering or failure to comply with the Voting Rights Act,” Li said. “One of those remedies, of course, is drawing a new map or supervising the drawing of a new map. The court can—although it doesn’t have to—order new elections, but it has in the past. So for example, when a number of Texas districts were struck down in 2006, there were special elections in those districts for Congress.”
In North Carolina at least, a special election is part of the district court’s tentative solution to fix the racially gerrymandered districts for the state legislature. The same district-court panel that in August declared 28 General Assembly districts unconstitutional ordered the state to redraw those areas last week, and to hold a special election during 2017’s municipal-election cycle for the redrawn districts. That means state legislators elected last month will only serve a one-year term. Though that’s only if the order stands: The North Carolina state government has already filed an appeal to the original August ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the justices’ decision could reverse the lower court’s order for a special election, and will have the last say on whether the original redistricting plan was in fact a racial gerrymander.
Full Article: The Next Battles Over Voting Rights – The Atlantic.