Federal judge takes look at Wake voting maps

— A federal judge said Wednesday that he hopes to rule by the end of the month on the legality of voting maps state lawmakers drew for Wake County Board of Education and Board of Commissioner seats.

The Republican-led General Assembly approved new voting districts for the school board in 2013 after Democrats seized control of the nine-member board. The new map consolidates the nine voting districts into seven districts and creates two regional districts, one representing the urban core of the county and the other the rural and suburban outer ring.

This year, lawmakers approved a similar map for the Board of Commissioners – again, after Democrats took control of the board – by adding two regional districts to the seven current seats and changing the voting for those seven seats from countywide to individual districts.

Advocacy groups and several Wake County residents have challenged the maps, arguing that they disproportionately pack minority voters into districts that have more voters than other districts, which makes their votes count less and reduces their influence in surrounding areas.

Sen. Dan Blue, D-Wake, has been a vocal critic of new maps. Drawing districts to favor one party or the other is allowed under the law “to a point.”

“But you can’t inject race into it to get partisan advantage. That violates the 14th Amendment,” Blue said outside of court on Wednesday.

The Wake County Board of Elections is the lone defendant in the case. Although the board had nothing to do with drawing the maps, it is in charge of implementing them. So, a federal appeals court decided the board should be sued over them, rather than state lawmakers.

Candidate filing for the 2016 elections is open until next Monday, but the two regional Board of Commissioner seats are the only ones that might be affected by a ruling in the case.

The new maps don’t take effect until 2018 for the rest of the Board of Commissioners, so the three seats up for election next year will be voted on countywide as usual. School board elections are nonpartisan, so candidates for those seats don’t file until next summer for the November election.

,A federal judge said Wednesday that he hopes to rule by the end of the month on the legality of voting maps state lawmakers drew for Wake County Board of Education and Board of Commissioner seats.

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