The 2022 elections are moving ahead as scheduled — so far — after a Wake County judge on Tuesday refused to grant the requests of a voting rights group that wanted to delay the March 8 primary.
The group was seeking to push the primary back to May, to give lawmakers time to redraw the maps they just passed and which will determine the political districts for North Carolina’s 14 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives as well as the 170 seats in the state House and Senate. It also wanted to push back candidate filing for the elections, which begins on Monday and lasts through much of December.
The lawsuit didn’t challenge the maps themselves as unconstitutional, just the process and rules Republicans used while drawing the maps. And since the maps are still law and have not been ordered to be redrawn, Superior Court Judge Graham Shirley said there was no basis to delay the elections for a redraw.
“There’s no harm to address,” he said, adding that it would be a violation of the constitutional separation of powers for him to rule otherwise.
Phil Strach, the lawyer for GOP lawmakers, declined to comment in court and referred questions to legislative leaders who did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The ruling from Shirley, a Republican, is a victory for the Republicans who drew the maps. But it’s also not the last word. Unlike this lawsuit which challenged the redistricting process, there are two lawsuits challenging the maps themselves, which are expected to elect more GOP candidates than the current maps would.
As with all constitutional issues in North Carolina, those lawsuits over the maps themselves will be handled by a bipartisan panel of three judges instead of a single judge.
Shirley is on the three-judge panel for at least one of those lawsuits, filed earlier in November by the N.C. League of Conservation Voters.
Either that lawsuit, or the other one — backed by the National Democratic Redistricting Committee — could potentially lead to the maps being overturned as unconstitutional. If that happens quickly, it’s possible the judges could also order next year’s primary elections to be delayed to give time for new maps to be drawn.
Shirley cautioned both sides Tuesday that his ruling in this lawsuit, on the process, was based on the specific facts of this case which are not the same as those being raised in the other lawsuits. It should not be construed as showing his stance on the validity of the maps themselves, he said.
“This is a very narrow issue and is not in any way reflective of any opinion I may hold or may form,” he said.
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