RALEIGH, N.C. — A lawsuit filed Monday in North Carolina alleges newly adopted district boundaries for the state Senate divide a cluster of predominantly Black counties in the northeast corner of the state in a way that unfairly dilutes the voting power of Black residents.
Two Black voters drawn into a majority-white district are asking a federal judge to block state officials from conducting future elections under a new map they argue unlawfully deprives them the opportunity to elect their preferred candidates.
Plaintiffs Rodney Pierce, a social studies teacher from Halifax County, and Moses Matthews, a retired chemist from Martin County, are requesting the court order a redrawn map including an eastern North Carolina district where minority voters would have an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice.
Attorneys for the eastern North Carolina residents also filed a motion to expedite proceedings, asking the court to finish arguments and decide on a motion for a preliminary injunction by Dec. 1 — three days before candidate filing begins.
''The totality of the circumstances establishes that the enacted state Senate districting plan has the effect of denying Black voters an equal opportunity to participate in the political process and to elect candidates of their choice," the lawsuit states.
The Republican-controlled General Assembly adopted a Senate plan last month that appears to keep the GOP in a good position to retain its current veto-proof supermajority, according to redistricting experts and statewide election data. While Republican map architects considered past election data when drawing districts that favor Republican candidates, they said they did not take into account voter population data based on race.
The office of Republican Senate Leader Phil Berger did not immediately respond Monday to emails seeking comment on the lawsuit.
The state Supreme Court flipped last year from a Democratic to a Republican majority, and the GOP justices ruled in April that the state constitution did not limit shifting district lines for partisan gain. But critics of the state Senate map, and the state House and congressional maps passed last month by Republicans, say they see some avenues to challenge those plan based on their division of minority groups.
If the new state legislative maps hold up in court, they put Republicans in a decent position to retain complete control of both chambers through the rest of the decade.
The ''Black Belt'' counties of eastern North Carolina have significant and politically cohesive populations of Black voters who overwhelmingly support Democratic candidates, the lawsuit states. A white majority in the surrounding area is also politically cohesive, and the plaintiffs argue they historically vote as a bloc to defeat candidates supported by Black voters.
North Carolina's eight majority Black counties are split between four separate districts under the Senate redistricting plan enacted by the General Assembly. One of those districts, Senate District 2, where Pierce and Matthews reside, stretches more than 160 miles from the Virginia border down parts of the Atlantic coastline.
The lawsuit argues it was ''feasible'' for legislators to draw those counties into their own district with a majority of racial and ethnic minorities while adhering to the state's redistricting criteria. Example maps present alternative configurations that the plaintiffs argue would be fair, compact and composed of whole counties.
Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue, a Wake County Democrat, said the lawsuit provides ''a glimmer of hope'' to Black voters in eastern North Carolina. He criticized Republican redistricting leaders for rejecting Democratic suggestions last month to make sure the maps complied with the Voting Rights Act.
''The plan enacted by the General Assembly in late October splits, cracks and packs Black voters to dilute their votes and blunt their ability to fully participate in the democratic process," Blue said Monday, adding that the GOP map constitutes '''cracking' on steroids.''
Hannah Schoenbaum is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.