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Wake Victory Could Signal Success in Other Election Lawsuits

After a ruling declaring Wake district lines unconstitutional, other legal challenges to North Carolina's election law and new district lines are making their way through the court system. (TheresaThompson/flickr.com)
After a ruling declaring Wake district lines unconstitutional, other legal challenges to North Carolina's election law and new district lines are making their way through the court system. (TheresaThompson/flickr.com)
July 5, 2016

RALEIGH, N.C. - The district lines drawn by state lawmakers restructuring the Wake County Board of Education and County Commission are unconstitutional. That's the ruling issued Friday by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

While the case specifically affects voters in Wake County, Allison Riggs, senior attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, said she hopes the decision signals the tides are turning in other attempts to do what she and others call "voter suppression."

"There's a whole lot of cases in the hopper, and these are legal challenges that have been percolating for a while and they're starting to bear fruit, but the bottom line is that the General Assembly has been acting like the laws don't apply to them," she said.

The Fourth Circuit also is considering a case arguing against North Carolina's 2013 Election Reform Law, which requires photo identification at the polls and puts in place early-voting restrictions, in addition to other changes. The same judge that issued the Wake County decision heard arguments for that challenge as well.

Riggs said it's not yet clear how lawmakers and Wake County will handle the Fourth Circuit's ruling, but she and others hope it means the unconstitutional district lines are not used for the November election, in spite of the voter education that now will be required.

"You could say, 'Oh, we don't want to confuse voters. We'll just let it stand,'" she added. "But that just lets legislators pick their voters, rather than voters pick their legislators, and it lets them control the electorate, decide who gets to vote and who doesn't."

Specifically, the court took issue with the new districts drawn by the General Assembly, calling them unevenly populated and giving more power to voters in districts that were underpopulated for partisan gain.

Reporting for this story by North Carolina News Connection in association with Media in the Public Interest. Media in the Public Interest is funded in part by Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC