The North Carolina Supreme Court issued more directions Tuesday to follow its decision on Friday to throw out the electoral maps adopted in November by the General Assembly.

That decision casts into the wind who might be on your ballot for what when polls open in May (maybe) and November (assuredly).

On Tuesday the court followed with an order to say it will select a Special Master to oversee its directives to the Wake County Superior Court to approve new maps no later than Feb. 23.

A Special Master is an oversight role to ensure the details of the original ruling are followed. Sometimes that person is a judicial figure or expert from another region of the country, which was the case when the courts took over drawing the maps used in 2020.

The Supreme Court in Tuesday’s order gave all interested parties – ostensibly the General Assembly and the three plaintiffs in the redistricting lawsuit – until 5 p.m. Wednesday to nominate individuals to serve as Special Master. The justices then would choose that person.

The NC Supreme Court’s ruling, based on the Democrats’ 4-3 edge on the court, elated Democrats and critics of partisan gerrymandering and irritated Republicans, who had drawn the maps in the first place. These maps, challenged by three groups of plaintiffs as being products of extreme partisan gerrymandering, covered district lines for the 14 seats of the U.S. Congress and for legislative districts for the state House and the Senate.

From left, Superior Court Judges Nathaniel Poovey, Graham Shirley and Dawn Layton listen to testimony from Jowei Chen, a political scientist from the University of Michigan, not pictured, during a partisan gerrymandering trial over North Carolina’s new political maps Monday, Jan. 3, 2022 at a courtroom at Campbell University School of Law in Raleigh, N.C. (Travis Long/The News & Observer via AP)

The justices, in overturning the verdict of a 3-judge panel in Wake County Superior Court after a trial in January, agreed with the plaintiffs that the maps created an unfair voting landscape that would allow Republicans to expand their electoral control even if Democrats dominated the voting. The trial court actually had ruled there had been partisan gerrymandering but that, under the state constitution, there was no path to overturn them.

The Supreme Court ruled that voters had been disenfranchised by the possibility that the GOP could have a 10-4 or 11-3 edge in Congress – it’s now 8-5, with a new seat added by the census – and expand its control in the state legislature.

Their decision also left many questions that deserve answers.

What will happen now with the maps?

The directive for a Special Master notwithstanding, the Supreme Court gave the General Assembly until Feb. 18 to submit new maps to the original trial court, which would have until Feb. 23 to approve them. The court also is requiring legislators to provide written explanations of the data and criteria they used in creating these new maps.

When will the General Assembly do this?

On Monday House Speaker Tim Hall (R-Cleveland) said legislators would begin the process. He cited the court-ordered deadline but didn’t elaborate how that might be addressed or when lawmakers might convene. Interestingly, the Supreme Court refers to the expected new maps as “Proposed Remedial Plans.”

On Monday the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in and stopped a lower-court ruling that required maps in Alabama to be redrawn because they violated the Voting Rights Act. Couldn’t that happen here?

Well, maybe. The Alabama case was based on Black voters being packed into one congressional district. The Supreme Court, which approved the decision on a 5-4 vote, didn’t explain why that decision was reached, although Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote separately that the process was too close to election day. Rep. Moore said lawmakers considering appealing North Carolina’s case to SCOTUS, but the court would have to overturn its own ruling from 2019 when, in a case involving North Carolina, justices ruled that gerrymandering issues were a matter for state courts.

Don’t these developments really push North Carolina’s election schedule, too?

No question about that. Candidate filing is scheduled to resume at 8 a.m. on Feb. 24, and the primary election is set for May 17. The lower court set the filing period after the Supreme Court delayed the election. If the new maps submitted next week aren’t satisfactory to the Supreme Court, then the timetable would have to be restructured.

Didn’t the legislature already do that?

Well, sort of. The General Assembly in a special vote two weeks ago delayed the primary to June 7 and pushed back the filing period by a month, guessing that new maps might be required and trying to build some flexibility into the schedule. But Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed that bill – which had been approved on partisan lines – as being premature and unnecessary.

Why were the maps approved in November unacceptable?

Here’s an example: Courts had ordered redraws of voting districts for elections in 2016, 2018 and 2020 for how voters were disenfranchised. That most recent ruling created wound up with a unified congressional district for Guilford County and Winston-Salem. Guilford County had been split into two districts for 2016 and 2018. The legislature in November split Guilford County into three separate districts (7th, 10th and 11th) that attached each chunk to far-flung counties with more rural voters than urban. Winston-Salem (and all of Forsyth County) went into a fourth District (12th). Similar steps were taken in Mecklenburg and Wake counties. The court’s ruling specified that “the ‘Whole Country Provision’ must be applied in a manner consonant with the requirements of the Voting Rights Act and federal ‘one-person, one-vote’ principles.” That’s the essence of the dispute.

Why was this done and allowed?

Republicans touted an open and transparent map-drawing process that did not rely on either voter registration data or racial data, both of which could make their processes vulnerable to the courts. They streamed their mapmaking on the web so voters could watch and comment as they were being drawn. But testimony at trial also revealed that lawmakers employed maps drawn in a separate private room that they transferred to the public-drawing process. It’s unclear who created those maps and how. They were destroyed. That said, Democrats proposed about 20 amendments to the maps before the NCGA approved them. All amendments were rejected. But don’t forget: Gerrymandering has been going on for decades, and both parties have been guilty of trying to preserve their power.

So when will I know who my candidates are?

The filing window was open for about 18 hours in December (when it was originally scheduled), and some candidates did file for races up and down the ballots. But some are waiting to see where the lines fall. One caught in the middle of all of this, 6th Congressional District Rep. Kathy Manning (D-Greensboro), had been waiting to see how the maps played out in court, but she said on Friday morning, before the decision was revealed, that she was planning to run no matter what. 5th District Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-Banner Elk) has said she is running in the new District 11, and Rep. Richard Hudson (R-Concord) has filed in District 10. There are numerous other candidates from both parties that have filed. None of the headliner candidates for the U.S. Senate nominations have yet filed their paperwork to be on the ballot even though redistricting has no bearing on that race.