- Associated Press - Monday, February 8, 2016

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Attorneys for the state of North Carolina asked federal judges to delay an order requiring two congressional districts to be redrawn, saying absentee voting is already under way for the March 15 primary.

A three-judge panel found the 1st and 12th Districts unconstitutional last Friday and directed legislators to draw new congressional districts by Feb. 19. The judges said Republican state lawmakers relied too much on race in drawing them in 2011.

The state’s emergency request said the legislature isn’t currently in session and more than 8,600 absentee ballot requests for elections based on the current boundaries had come in by mail as of early Monday, and more than 400 have already been accepted, according to State Board of Elections data.

The order “is likely to cause significant voter confusion and irreparable harm to the citizens of North Carolina and the election process that is already under way,” the state attorneys said.

The March 15 primary also includes races for governor, U.S. Senate, legislative seats and a $2 billion bond issue. Demanding new district boundaries could require a separate primary later for congressional districts.

Having two primaries would impose “significant and unanticipated challenges and costs” for election administrators, state elections director Kim Strach said in an affidavit. If the court rejects the request, the state could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Plaintiffs have until midday Tuesday to respond.

Last week’s ruling followed a 2013 lawsuit challenging the districts and three-day trial last October. Critics who sued called the boundaries illegal racial gerrymanders that packed black voters into the two districts while diminishing their influence in surrounding districts.

Republicans deny race was the predominant factor in drawing the districts, which had black-voting age populations below 50 percent before 2011. Both became majority black districts after redistricting. Attorneys for the state and legislative leaders say the 12th District was adjusted to give political advantages to Republicans and the 1st District to avoid legal challenges under the federal Voting Rights Act.

Republicans now hold 10 of the 13 seats in North Carolina’s congressional delegation. In 2010, Democrats held eight seats.

Residents in both districts elected black representatives for 20 years. They’ve continued to do so with Reps. G.K. Butterfield in the 1st District and Alma Adams in the 12th. Both are seeking re-election in 2016.

The 12th District is 120 miles long but just 20 miles at its widest point as it travels from Charlotte to Greensboro, picking up Winston-Salem along the way. The 1st District covers all or parts of 24 counties, mostly in northeast North Carolina. In the 2011 redistricting, mapmakers pulled in black voters in Rocky Mount, Goldsboro and Greenville and more than 100,000 additional voters from Durham County.

Durham City Council Eddie Davis, who is black, said voters are anxious because they don’t know who will represent them or who they can vote for.

“There are a lot of black people who like the idea of being represented by an African-American,” Davis said, but “I think people do resent the way the lines have been drawn.”

The state attorneys also appealed Monday the actual ruling of the three-judge panel to the U.S. Supreme Court. The state Supreme Court and a three-judge panel of state judges upheld both the congressional and legislative districts.

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