By Richard Sullins |

Following a ruling by a three-judge panel last week that North Carolina’s latest congressional maps, as well as those for the state Senate and House of Representatives, are constitutional, new dates for the resumption of filing, one-stop and absentee voting, and voter registration have been set if – and that’s a big if – the maps don’t get struck down as they are appealed to the state Supreme Court.

The panel, consisting of two Republicans and one Democrat, ruled unanimously last Tuesday that the maps were “a result of intentional, pro-Republican partisan redistricting” and spoke of the harm that such district lines caused, speaking of their personal “disdain for having to deal with issues that potentially lead to results incompatible with democratic principles and subject our state to ridicule.” That being said, the panel ruled the maps were not illegal.

The delay in filing dates and the associated March 8 primary was aimed at giving time for challenges to the newly drawn district maps to be heard in court, appealed, and, if necessary, to have the maps redrawn. The state Supreme Court had chosen not to issue quick rulings in the two lawsuits that were filed immediately after the Republican-led legislature drew up maps that would have more favorable to the GOP.

At least one analysis of the state’s map of its 14 congressional districts found that Republicans are likely to win at least 10 and possibly 11 of the 14 seats, even though the state is split almost evenly between Democrats, Republicans, and the unaffiliated.

The three-judge panel last week dismissed claims that the maps were created solely to disenfranchise Black voters and were in violation of the state’s Constitution. But appeals have already been filed with the state’s highest court, where Democrats hold a four to three edge.

The state Supreme Court will have the final say, thanks to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June of 2019 which held that claims of partisan gerrymandering are to be handled in now in state courts. Should the state Supreme Court declare any of the maps unconstitutional on that basis, the new schedule announced last week would itself become null and void until new districts can be drawn and approved.

But assuming that the current districts that were drawn last year hold, filing for public office in Lee County and across North Carolina will resume at 8 a.m. on Thursday, February 24, and continue for just seven business days, ending at noon on Friday, March 4.

Before filing was halted by the Supreme Court on December 8, Democratic incumbent Pat McCracken filed for re-election to the Lee County Board of Education and had been joined by Democrat Walter Ferguson. Republicans Eric Davidson and Chris Gaster had also filed for election to the school board. The current chairman of the Lee County Board of Commissioners, Republican Kirk Smith, filed for re-election, as did Democratic incumbent Clerk of Superior Court Susie Thomas.

Democrat Linda Kelly Rhodes had filed for an at-large seat on the Sanford City Council being vacated by Chas Post and Republican Brian Estes, who became Lee County’s interim sheriff on January 1, had also filed his intention to run. Other candidates are known to have expressed their intention to run for office but had not officially filed before the Court paused official declarations of intent late last year.

Mail-out absentee balloting begins on Monday, March 28 and the last day to apply for an absentee ballot is Tuesday, May 10. One-stop absentee voting begins on Thursday, April 28, and ends on Saturday, May 14. The primary election is currently scheduled for Tuesday, May 17.