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Politics

Court Ruling On NC Gerrymandering Could Upend Harris, McCready Race

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Mark Harris For Congress / Dan McCready For Congress
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The 9th District congressional race featuring Republican Mark Harris, left, and Democrat Dan McCready could be upended by a new congressional map.

Myers Park is Dan McCready's home neighborhood, and his blue yard signs are a common sight on its front lawns. But after a dramatic ruling Monday by a three-judge panel that found the state's Congressional map unconstitutional, North Carolina's fall election schedule could be overturned. 

It's possible the state's Congressional districts could be jumbled as well, with McCready no longer living in the district he's fighting to represent. 

The panel wrote favorably about a proposed map that was created by University of Michigan associate professor Jowei Chen as a solution to the state's nearly decade-long fight over gerrymandering. The Chen map would create a new Congressional District east of Charlotte that would be significantly different than the 9th Congressional District that's contested by Republican Mark Harris and McCready, the Democrat.

It would include Union, Anson and Stanley counties, and parts of Mecklenburg, Cabarrus and Rowan counties. It would resemble a square.

The existing 9th District — in which Harris and McCready are competing — is a long skinny district along the state's southern border with South Carolina.

Not only would McCready no longer live in the proposed new district, the Chen map would lump Republican Richard Hudson, who represents the 8th District, into the new district.

Harris, who lives off Providence Road near Interstate 485, would still live in the proposed district.

All three candidates could still run in any district. In North Carolina, candidates don't have to live in the congressional district they want to represent.

It's unclear what will happen next.

The North Carolina Republican Party, and the GOP leadership of the General Assembly, are adamant that the Nov. 6 congressional election take place as planned, with the current map. The North Carolina Democratic Party said it would be "prudent" to create new maps for the November election, even if that means holding a second primary on that date.

Common Cause, one of the plaintiffs in the case, will file a brief Monday on whether it thinks the election should continue as planned.

Ben Thorpe, an attorney representing Common Cause, declined to say Thursday whether the group was going to support a new election schedule with new maps. Common Cause could support holding the election as planned and then the drawing of new maps in January.

"We have to answer several questions that the court has asked," Thorpe said. "They want to know, 'Can we run new elections?' We are doing our best to answer that for the court."

If the Supreme Court declines to grant a stay, it's possible the three-judge panel could order new maps quickly drawn. They could order the legislature to do it — or they could appoint a special master to do it.

The panel often cited Chen's map as a workable solution. Known as Map 2-297, it creates seven safe or Republican-leaning districts and six safe or Democratic-leaning districts. Chen was hired by Common Cause as part of their lawsuit.

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Credit Jowei Chen
One of the proposed maps for North Carolina's congressional districts created by Jowei Chen.

The GOP currently has 10 of 13 seats.

Map 2-297 was one of 3,000 maps Chen created by computer. In having a computer create the maps, Chen used some of the same criteria as the General Assembly said it used, such as keeping counties intact and protecting incumbents by not placing two election officials in the same district.

"In the 3,000 maps, you found overwhelmingly that 6 or 7 Republican seats was significantly more common than 8 or 9," Thorpe said. "Ten Republican seats never happened across 3,000 maps. That was powerful evidence."

The Chen map could give Democrats the ability to win five or six seats. But it could make McCready's job harder, as the new Chen district includes some heavily Republican areas of Cabarrus County.

McCready communications director Aaron Simpson said Wednesday that McCready is continuing to campaign as if nothing has changed.

Andy Yates, Harris' campaign manager, said Thursday he doesn't think the election schedule will change.

"I'm still pretty confident there will be a stay (from the Supreme Court)," Yates said. "I can't imagine they would throw out primary results and create chaos. But it's N.C. politics — nothing shocks me anymore.

If the congressional election does take place as planned, it's possible new maps could be drawn in early 2019. The judges could order a new election for that year.

That could pit incumbents against each other.

"It's going to be interesting to see what districts people run in (if there are new districts)," Yates said. "If they ultimately get thrown out, and I don't think they will, it will be a very interesting few weeks, or a few days, to see what people end up doing."