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CMS board reverses an earlier vote after a map change led to gerrymandering allegations

The School Board voted Tuesday to return the Cherry and Elizabeth neighborhoods to Carol Sawyer's District 4.
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board voted Tuesday to return the Cherry and Elizabeth neighborhoods to Carol Sawyer's District 4.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board Tuesday voted unanimously to shift a precinct that covers Charlotte's Elizabeth and Cherry neighborhoods back to District 4, an unusual decision to reverse an earlier vote.

Last fall, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools staff created a draft map that created new boundaries for the board’s six single-member districts. Board member Carol Sawyer then tweaked that map in order to keep the town of Matthews in one district.

She also made a handful of other changes to keep the populations of the districts balanced. One was to shift Precinct 2 from District 4, which she represents, to District 5, represented by Margaret Marshall.

After that vote, Stephanie Sneed, the chair of the Black Political Caucus of Charlotte-Mecklenburg, questioned why Precinct 2 was moved. Sneed, who lives in that precinct, said people had asked her whether the decision was “retaliatory.” Sneed ran against Sawyer and lost in 2017.

Other residents also questioned why the precinct was moved.

Four CMS board members — Sean Strain, Rhonda Cheek, Ruby Jones and Lenora Shipp — voted to place an item on the agenda that would return Precinct 2 to District 4.

Sawyer said at Tuesday’s meeting that “there was no racial or political intent” when she moved the precinct.

She said the maps were discussed during two board public meetings as well as a community meeting with the Black Political Caucus.

“No community or board members raised any concerns,” she said, adding that the dispute over Precinct 2 had become a distraction.

After losing to Sawyer by more than 15 percentage points in 2017, Sneed ran again for an at-large CMS board seat in 2019. She lost by less than a tenth of a percentage point.

Moving Precinct 2 back to District 4 does little to change the population balance between the six single-member districts.

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Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.