North Carolina’s election maps for 2024 are racially biased, advocates say in lawsuit

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina voting-rights advocates sued Tuesday to overturn all of the redistricting plans drawn by Republicans and being used starting with the 2024 elections, saying legislative leaders unlawfully weakened the electoral influence of Black voters.

The North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, Common Cause and eight Black residents filed a lawsuit in federal court. They accuse GOP legislative leaders of intentionally moving this fall boundary lines for General Assembly and congressional districts in part so that many Black voters will be prevented from having the opportunity to elect their preferred candidates. Instead, the plaintiffs contend, Black voting blocs are submerged into districts with white majorities that don’t normally vote for Black candidates.

Members of the League of Women voters rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court as it hears oral arguments in a case involving the redrawing of congressional maps by the North Carolina GOP-led state legislature. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

For decades, Black residents have overwhelmingly favored Democratic candidates.

“The General Assembly targeted predominantly Black voting precincts with surgical precision throughout the state in drawing and enacting the 2023 Plans, at the expense of traditional redistricting criteria, to achieve preferred district lines that diminish Black voters’ ability to elect candidates of their choice at all levels of government,” the lawsuit’s authors wrote.

Tuesday’s lawsuit marks at least the third and most comprehensive litigation filed by voters since the Republican-dominated General Assembly enacted new maps in October for its own districts and for North Carolina’s congressional delegation that are designed to boost GOP clout for years to come.

While the plaintiffs wrote they want the maps thrown out so no elections can be held under them — alleging violations of the U.S. Constitution, the federal Voting Rights Act and another law — their goal doesn’t aim to block their use for next year’s elections. Instead, the lawsuit seeks remedial maps be enacted for use no later than the 2026 general election.

House Speaker Tim Moore
Speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives Tim Moore talks to reporters outside the U.S. Supreme Court after he attended oral arguments in the Moore v. Harper case on December 7, 2022, in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Hilary Klein with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers, told reporters that timing and logistics of their lawsuit made seeking a resolution for this year’s elections difficult. Candidate filing closed Friday for the March 5 primary elections, and the first primary absentee ballots will be disbursed to voters on Jan. 19. She also blamed in part a five-month delay between legislators stating they would redraw maps and the public hearings for new plans in September.

House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger are among the lawsuit defendants. Their spokespeople didn’t respond immediately Tuesday to emails seeking comment. GOP lawmakers have previously defended their maps as lawful.

The maps enacted in October put Republicans in good shape to win at least 10 of the state’s 14 congressional seats next November and to retain majorities in the state Senate and House, according to redistricting experts and statewide election data. The maps, if upheld, are supposed to be used through the 2030 elections.

Under the congressional map that had been drawn by state judges for the 2022 elections, Democrats and Republicans each won seven seats.

The plaintiffs in Tuesday’s lawsuit focus largely on four of the state’s congressional districts, nine of the 50 state Senate districts and roughly 20 of the 120 state House districts. Many of them are located in counties and contain precincts where a disproportionate percentage of Black residents live compared to the entire state, which is more than 22% African American.

“Everyone’s vote should count equally, and there are people determined to make sure that Black votes are discounted,” state NAACP President Deborah Maxwell said Tuesday.

The lawsuit says Republican legislators adopted remapping criteria that excluded race, even though the U.S. Supreme Court in June ruled in an Alabama redistricting case that Black voting power in areas with high Black populations must be scrutinized to ensure Voting Rights Act compliance.

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Earlier this month, close to 20 Black and Latino voters sued to strike down the new congressional districts, four of which they argue are illegal racial gerrymanders.

And a lawsuit filed by two Black voters said two eastern North Carolina state Senate districts violate the Voting Rights Act through new boundaries that failed to create a majority-Black district. The plaintiffs in the Senate litigation have asked a federal judge to rule by Dec. 29 whether to block the use of the districts in the primaries while the case goes to court.

The new congressional boundaries could help Republicans on Capitol Hill retain control of the U.S. House entering 2025. In recent weeks, three incumbent Democrats — Reps. Jeff JacksonKathy Manning and Wiley Nickel — decided not to seek reelection, saying the districts were so gerrymandered toward the GOP that it was futile to run in 2024.

While opponents of Republican maps argue publicly that the GOP’s lines are designed to squeeze out more electoral seats at the expense of Democrats, recent court rulings have neutered legal claims of illegal partisan gerrymandering. That has appeared to narrow legal challenges to North Carolina redistricting maps largely to racial bias claims.

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North Carolina voting-rights advocates have filed a lawsuit to challenge redistricting plans drawn by Republicans, alleging that legislative leaders unlawfully diminished the electoral influence of Black voters. The lawsuit accuses GOP legislative leaders of intentionally redrawing boundary lines in a way that prevents Black voters from electing their preferred candidates. According to the plaintiffs, Black voting groups have been submerged into districts with white majorities that do not typically vote for Black candidates. While the lawsuit seeks to overturn the new maps for the 2024 elections, it does not aim to impact next year’s elections. The lawsuit argues that the new maps violate the U.S. Constitution, the federal Voting Rights Act, and other laws. The plaintiffs suggest that remedial maps be enacted for use by the 2026 general election. This lawsuit is the latest in a series of legal challenges to the redistricting plans enacted by GOP lawmakers in October, which are designed to boost Republican clout for years to come. The potential impact of the new maps is significant, as experts predict they could give Republicans at least 10 of the state’s 14 congressional seats, as well as majorities in the state Senate and House.

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