The U.S. Federal Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit is scheduled to hear oral arguments Wednesday on a lawsuit challenging Wake County’s school board election maps.
The Durham-based Southern Coalition for Social Justice is challenging the 2013 redistricting on behalf of a handful of Wake County residents and two local organizations. They argue that the new districts drawn by the Republican-led General Assembly disfavor urban voters.
In 2013, legislators passed a local bill that changed the nine single-member districts to seven single-member districts with two larger districts that divide the county like a donut. Challengers argue the smaller area consists of urban residents, while the larger area comprises rural residents. The say the maps create a 9.8 percent population variation that violates the one-person, one-vote provision.
“The Supreme Court has said that the whole purpose of redistricting is to make sure everyone’s vote is treated equally, and this flies in the face of that,” says Allison Riggs, a staff attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.
Riggs argues that those living in overpopulated districts will have less voting power than those in under-populated areas. She also says that the plan will pit candidates who are registered Democrats and support progressive education policies against each other.
“It will create artificial districts that would be more likely to elect candidates not in favor of socioeconomic diversity plans,” says Riggs.
U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle dismissed the suit earlier this year, arguing that the population disparities are not significant enough to challenge under one-person, one-vote provisions.
He also noted that the discrimination concerns “lead back to politics” and amount to gerrymandering claims, which the courts do not consider unlawful.
Challengers, however, say they’re optimistic that the court of appeals will recognize their claims.
This piece first appeared on WUNC’s radio program and website on December 10, 2014. Listen to WUNC’s full radio interview here.