Groups appeal dismissal of lawsuit challenging new Wake County school board voting districts

ablythe@newsobserver.com and khui@newsobserver.comApril 8, 2014 

— The residents and organizations challenging Wake County school board election maps adopted by the General Assembly last year are taking their case to a federal appeals court.

The Durham-based Southern Coalition for Social Justice filed an appeal Monday challenging the recent decision of U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle to dismiss the suit by 13 Wake County residents and two community organizations. At issue is 2013 legislative action that redrew Wake County school board election districts.

The challengers argue that districts drawn by the Republican-led legislature, in effect, weaken the vote of Wake County’s urban residents. The lines, according to the challengers, create two newsuper-regional districts – one in the older parts of Raleigh and the other in the suburbs.

Under the 2013 plan, voters would pick one board member from a regional district and one from the district where they live.

The challengers have argued that the new districts violate the U.S. Constitution and North Carolina Constitution. They contend that maps that create a 9.8 percent population variation between the two districts infringe upon the one-person, one-vote provisions.

“The vote of an urban Raleigh resident should be just as powerful as the vote of a rural Wake County resident,” former Wake County school board member Beverley Clark said in a statement.

In his ruling in March, Boyle found that no such problem existed. He also found that at its core the challenge to the new districts amounted to a claim of political gerrymandering, and the courts haven’t prohibited drawing districts based on giving one political party an edge.

The challengers hope the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals will see the case from a different vantage.

“The federal courts have made clear that favoring rural voters over urban voters, or favoring one political party over another are not legitimate justifications for deviations from the one-person, one-vote principle,” said their attorney, Anita Earls.

Blythe: 919-836-4948; Twitter: @AnneBlythe1

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