While a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision appears to make the new districts drawn by the Craven County Board of Commissioners official without Justice Department preclearance, commissioners will let county residents speak again before final passage.
Following a request by Commission Chairman Scott Dacey, the board voted unanimously Monday to let the public review and comment on the maps again Sept. 16 and have the board take another vote on new district maps. They are still posted on Craven County Administration Building halls and on the county website.
Dacey read from a letter from Greensboro elections expert attorney Marshall Hurley that advised that since Section 4B of the 1965 Voting Rights Act was struck down, “the statute requiring submission has been declared unconstitutional.”
It is Hurley’s opinion “that the redistricting resolution is presently effective as law and may be implemented.”
He said the Supreme Court decision “did not alter section 2 of the Act, which is the law with respect to the permanent nationwide ban on racial discrimination in voting.”
In making his request, Dacey said, “In my heart of hearts I believe that these maps would stand up to any muster, but acting with an abundance of caution, it would be my judgment that we schedule another public hearing and vote.”
Hurley’s letter advised that the Craven County redistricting resolution was passed prior to the decision, “so there is no precedent for determining the status of unprecleared legislative actions.”
“It is clear that there is no longer an enforceable mechanism requiring preclearance submissions by previously covered jurisdictions,” but the timing of the county’s action could subject it to be called into question, according to Hurley’s letter.
The first new county commission district maps for Craven County’s seven districts in 20 years were presented at a March public hearing with the goal of final passage and Justice Department approval by Sept. 30, in time to be used in the 2014 elections.
The maps were prepared over a period of nine months with the help of an Arlington, Va., consulting firm using computer software that factored in demographics including race to make sure at least two districts could be won by African-American candidates.
Hurley had advised that the goal of increased scrutiny for Craven County under the Voting Rights Act was “to create two minority districts” and going forward, “the goal is not to regress.”
The process included six versions of the maps to address several districts that were significantly out of population balance and do not enforce the principle of one-man, one-vote.
Some speaking at the last public hearing said they believed there was “too much politics” in the last set of maps and the Board of Commissioners vote was split down party lines, five Republican votes for and two Democratic votes against.
The public hearing is set for 8:30 a.m. Sept. 16, in the upstairs commissioner’s room of Craven County Administration Building at the corner of Broad and Craven streets in New Bern.
Sue Book is a reporter for the Sun Journal.