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(WGHP) — The North Carolina Supreme Court’s decision late Wednesday to delay the upcoming primary election and the candidate filing period for those races caught some by surprise and created a wave of new uncertainty about who might be voting for whom come next fall.

At issue is the same topic that North Carolinians have seen debated ardently for the past five years: District maps drawn by the General Assembly following the 2020 census may have been racially and politically gerrymandered to the advantage of the majority Republicans.

These new maps were created after the delayed census data was processed, and, when they ultimately were approved in November, they dramatically changed the voting landscape, especially in the urban areas of Raleigh, Charlotte and Greensboro, which were subdivided into districts that included more rural perimeter areas.

The census growth to 10.4 million residents provided the state with a 14th Congressional seat, which required a rash of alterations. Democrats and election observers have said the maps were drawn to give the GOP at least a 10-4 advantage and possibly 11-3, based on prior voting records.

To some extent because of those maps, two incumbent Democrats, G.K. Butterfield in the current 1st District and David Price in the 4th, are retiring, and Kathy Manning of the 6th is undecided.

There are also complaints that the statewide legislative districts cement the possibility that the General Assembly would return to being a Republican supermajority, which means that the legislature always would have the ability to override the governor’s veto.

Why did the court rule?

Three lawsuits have been filed to contest all of this, and the Supreme Court decided the merits of the argument in one of them should be considered. That order overturned a ruling Monday by the Court of Appeals which for a few hours had delayed the filing period until arguments could be considered.

What did the court decide?

The court decided that, because there is a need to hear the case brought by the North Carolina League of Conservation Voters as a determination with whether new district lines were drawn correctly, the primary election – and the filing period for that election – should be delayed.

The primary was moved from March 8 to May 17. The filing period will be determined after the legal process is completed.

The order said “the importance of the issues to the constitutional jurisprudence of this state, and the need for urgency.”

When will the situation be resolved?

The Supreme Court set a timetable and process that is both urgent and unprecedented, stipulating that a trial must be completed by no later than Jan. 11 and setting an expedited process for the appeals that almost certainly would follow.

Will anything come of this process? History would suggest at least some adjustments to the maps.

What is affected?

Everyone running for office in North Carolina, even candidates for the U.S. Senate, even though those races aren’t affected by district lines.

Otherwise it’s the races for Congress, state House and Senate, courts and various local races, such as the delayed Greensboro City Council races, and local referenda, such as the vote on a bond to rebuild schools in Guilford County.

Had anyone filed to run?

Some candidates for Senate and a few for Congress had submitted their paperwork. Many candidates in courts and local races are on the ballot.

The court order said all candidates would continue to be considered as having filed, although the races for Congress could change if the court orders new district. That’s what happened for 2020.

What’s the history here?

This will be the third time in the past six years the courts will have to determine whether the NC General Assembly acted appropriately in drawing maps to be used in elections.

The courts – both federal and state – required the independent redraw of maps that first were created after the 2010 census because they were gerrymandered racially and for partisan advantage. There was a federal lawsuit that led to a redraw in 2016, and subsequent state suits required redraws in 2018 and 2020. Republicans had a roughly 10-3 edge in Congress with their original maps, but after the courts intervened, that margin 2020 became 8-5.

Are delays in primary and filing periods common?

Gerry Cohen, a member of the Wake County Board of Elections and an adjunct professor at Duke University, posted on Twitter recently that North Carolina has had all primaries delayed “2 or 3 times including 2004, just congressional twice (2016 and either 1998 or 2000).” He said in 1984 the General Assembly primaries were delayed to the date of the second primary in about a quarter of the counties.

What are they saying about the court ruling?

Sen. Ralph Hise (R-Mitchell), who co-chairs the Senate Elections Committee: “The court didn’t even articulate a legal or factual basis for suspending elections. The Democrats on the Supreme Court want districts that elect more Democrats, so they’re blocking every election in the state until they get their way.”

Gov. Roy Cooper: “Today’s order by the state Supreme Court restores faith in the rule of law and it is necessary for the Court to rule on the constitutionality of these unfair districts before the next election.”

Democratic Party Chair Bobbie Richardson: “I am grateful that the North Carolina Supreme Court is taking action to address this important issue, which will determine the makeup of our state’s electorate for the next 10 years. Halting candidate filing and delaying the primary election are important steps towards ensuring North Carolina voters have the freedom to elect their representatives. Voters don’t need help from legislators to decide who represents them.”  

What’s the latest with congressional districts in the Triad?

  • 2nd District (includes Caswell County and all or part of 16 other counties): Butterfield, the incumbent, isn’t running. Republicans Brad Murphy, Laura Pichardo and Brent Robertson have filed.
  • 7th District (includes the eastern halves of Guilford and Davidson counties, all of Alamance and Randolph counties and at least some of four other counties): There is no incumbent. No one has filed. Former Republican Rep. Mark Walker of Greensboro is said to be considering dropping out of the Senate field and running in this district. Several other candidates have signaled interest.
  • 8th District (includes Montgomery and at least some of seven other counties): There is no incumbent. No one has filed. Republican Dan Bishop now represents most of those counties and has said he will file to run in the 8th, rather than in the 9th, where he is double-bunked with Democrat Alma Adams.
  • 10th District (includes southwestern Guilford County, western Davidson County, Davie County and at least some of two other counties): Rep. Richard Hudson (R-Concord) is the incumbent. He has filed, but no one else has.
  • 11th District (includes part of Guilford County, all of Rockingham, Stokes Surry, Alleghany, Ashe, Wilkes, Caldwell and Alexander counties and small pieces of Watauga County): Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-Banner Elk) and Rep. Kathy Manning (D-Greensboro) are incumbents. Foxx has filed. Manning has been undecided.
  • 12th District (includes Forsyth and Yadkin counties along with all or pieces of three other counties): Rep. Ted Budd (R-Davie) and Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-Denver) are incumbents. Budd is campaigning for Senate. No one has filed.

So what will Walker do?

His future in the Senate race remains undecided following a meeting last weekend with former President Donald Trump in Florida. He told The Associated Press on Thursday that he would take the rest of the year to consider his options. Given that he couldn’t file in either race, that’s almost moot.

“This has to be something in my heart, and I don’t know that it’s there yet,” Walker told the AP of a return to the U.S. House. “I’m willing to consider it.”

Budd and former Gov. Pat McCrory are figured ahead of Walker among Republicans who have said they are running to replace retiring Richard Burr. The AP reported that Club for Growth Action, a political action committee, has said it will spend $10 million to boost Budd, who has been endorsed by Trump.