Raleigh, N.C. — The Wake County Board of Elections will ask the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Thursday to reconsider its order that struck down districts drawn for the county's school board and Board of Commissioners. The decision was taken in ...
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By Mark BinkerRaleigh, N.C. â€” The Wake County Board of Elections will ask the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Thursday to reconsider its order that struck down districts drawn for the county's school board and Board of Commissioners.
The decision was taken in closed session Wednesday night and announced by board Chairman Brian Ratledge, who said it reflects the will of "the majority" of the board. Local boards of elections are three members, two selected from the governor's party and one from the other political party. In this case, Democrat Mark Ezzell said he sided against the decision, but added it was rare for the board to not be unanimous on matters of election administration.
It's unclear what that decision will mean for this year's November general election. Local boards must be ready to distribute by-mail absentee ballots on Sept. 9, and typically need to lock in who is on the ballot by Aug. 10, less than a month from now.
"We're in a jam no matter what we do," Ratledge said.
That would be particularly so if the courts were to settle on a plan for the county commissioners races that requires the county to hold a new primary before setting its general election ballot.
Lawmakers drew districts for Wake County's school board in 2013 and, in 2015, adopted the same plan for the Board of Commissioners. At the time, opponents of the plan said that Republicans in the General Assembly were trying to redraw maps to give the GOP partisan advantages in local races. Republicans insisted they were merely trying to ensure rural areas of the county are better represented.
While U.S. District Judge James Dever ruled the voting districts were legal, the 4th Circuit reversed him, saying that there was "no reason" to hold elections using districts that were out of balance in terms of population.
While the Wake County Board of Elections will ask the 4th Circuit to vacate the ruling of its three-judge panel and here the case en banc â€“ all 15 judges on the appellate court would hear the case â€“ it must also comply with an order from Dever asking for specific logistical information with regard to holding this year's election. Ratledge said the board has instructed its attorney to make that filing on Monday, the deadline set by Dever.
Although he wouldn't say specifically what would be in that ruling, Ratledge did not sound as if the board would recommend any of the various choices between having Dever redraw the maps, reverting to the pre-General Assembly-drawn plan or other options that may be available.
"We don't draw maps, and we don't pick maps. That's outside our purview," Ratledge said.
Further clarity could come Monday when the State Board of Elections meets to decide on what input it will give Dever. Although the state board isn't a party to the case like the county board is, it has overall responsibility for overseeing elections in the state and could recommend a course of action.
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