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5 Things to Know: Voting Rights Groups Challenge New District Maps in Court

...and four more stories from Dec. 17-23, 2023

The North Carolina General Assembly chambers. Medicaid expansion, Government Transparency Act, NC redistricting trial, NC congressional maps, domestic violence
NC voting rights groups challenged the state legislature’s newly drawn district maps, which plaintiffs claim were racially gerrymandered. (Photo by J. Zehnder/AdobeStock)

Voters and Voting Rights Groups Challenge New District Maps in Court

On Tuesday, NC voters and voting rights groups filed a lawsuit against the state legislature’s newly drawn legislative and congressional district maps, which the plaintiffs claim were racially gerrymandered.

Filed jointly by individual Black voters, the NAACP North Carolina State Conference, and Common Cause, the lawsuit argues that the districts were drawn with the intention of diluting the voting power of Black voters in violation of the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution and Voting Rights Act.

Learn more: NC GOP Approves Gerrymandered Congressional Maps

The complaint alleges that the Republican-controlled legislature dismantled existing state Senate and House Black opportunity districts, and that the new districts were drawn in a rushed process that did not allow for meaningful input from racial minorities. It specifically names Congressional districts 1, 5, 6, and 10 as well as Senate districts 7 and 8 as districts where map drawers racially gerrymandered the maps and diluted Black electoral power.

The lawsuit names Congressional districts 1, 5, 6, and 10 in the new district maps as racially gerrymandered. (Courtesy of NCGA)

“Lawmakers know what they are doing. They are eroding the power of Black voters — power that was fought for over decades of violent discrimination and suffering,” said Deborah Maxwell, president of the NAACP North Carolina Conference. “Today, the NAACP stands defiant and proud with its partners, knowing that the will of the people cannot be defeated by the racist tactics of a few politicians.”

“North Carolina legislators have imposed discriminatory voting maps that outrageously attack the rights of Black North Carolinians. Sadly, racist gerrymandering once again plagues our state and harms voters. We must defeat it,” added Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause North Carolina. “Our voting districts don’t belong to politicians; our districts belong to the people. We must have voting maps that are free from racist gerrymandering and that respect the freedom of all voters.”

If the lawsuit is successful, the maps will likely be redrawn, potentially delaying the 2024 state House and Senate elections.


Gov. Cooper Grants Pardons, Commutes Sentence Before Holiday

Before the holiday weekend, Gov. Roy Cooper commuted one person’s prison sentence and granted pardons of forgiveness to four others, as announced by the North Carolina Justice Center’s Fair Chance Criminal Justice Project (FCCJ) on Thursday.

Darnell Cherry has served 26 years in prison for his role in the murder and robbery of Sonja Williams in Bertie County. Cherry was 16 years old at the time. The Juvenile Sentence Review Board (JSRB) recommended him for a commutation, citing his consistent employment while in prison and his rehabilitative efforts, including getting his G.E.D. Cooper commuted Cherry’s sentence to time served.

Cooper also granted pardons of forgiveness to four other people, all of whom were age 22 or younger at the times of their crimes.

“This is great news for these North Carolinians and their families; we are particularly excited to hear news of the pardon of our community partner, Portia Pittman,” Mallette said, referencing a state government employee who was convicted of accessory after the fact to armed robbery in 2008 — a crime she committed when she was 22 years old. “But we also know there are many other deserving individuals with petitions waiting on the Governor’s desk.”

Cooper established the JSRB in 2021 to review petitions from people sentenced to prison after crimes committed while they were under the age of 18.

“Ensuring careful review of cases while taking executive clemency action is a responsibility I take seriously,” Cooper said this week following the latest announcement of pardons and commutations. “We carefully consider recommendations made by the Juvenile Sentence Review Board to commute sentences for crimes committed by minors. All of these individuals are deserving of clemency and we will continue to work to protect our communities and improve the fairness of our criminal justice system.”


Man Found Shot Dead in Southwest Charlotte

A 33-year-old father of three was shot and killed in southwest Charlotte this week, becoming the 93rd homicide victim of the year. Shortly before 2 a.m. on Tuesday, officers responded to a check-the-welfare call for service at an apartment on West Tyvola Road near the South Charlotte VA Clinic, where they discovered 33-year-old Frankie Chaparro Jr. dead from a gunshot wound.

The above map shows homicides in Charlotte city limits during 2023. Black markers signify gun deaths, blue signifies death by vehicle, red signifies trauma/unknown, while green signifies a “justified” homicide.

One of Chapparo’s cousins has organized a GoFundMe campaign to help Chapparo’s mother deal with the unexpected death of her son, who himself had three children. “He was a hardworking man who never gave up on his hopes and dreams, he was goofy and made us laugh a lot,” his cousin wrote on the site. “He loved his kids so much and always made sure that they had everything they needed.”

Charlotte has now seen 93 homicides in 2023 as the year comes to a close. By comparison, the city saw 115 total homicides last year, and had already reached 91 by the end of September.


Huntersville Board Criticized for Closed Meetings

Shortly after Democrats swept the elections for Huntersville Board of Commissioners in November, the resulting board is already catching flak from transparency advocates for a practice that some say is in blatant violation of state law.

Eric Rowell with the NC Open Government Coalition took to Twitter on Thursday to voice his frustration with the fact that new board members have continued a practice of holding closed “3-on-3” meetings in the lead-up to full board meetings. Rowell says commissioners Edwin Quarles, Nick Walsh, and Amanda Dumas have been meeting in closed sessions at 8 a.m. on the Monday of any board meeting to discuss the night’s agenda items, while Jennifer Hunt, Alisia Bergsman, and LaToya Rivers have been meeting at 3:30 p.m. on those same days.

“The law in NC is clear … despite the contrary advice being provided to the board by the town attorney. An agenda review meeting (or ‘3-on-3’ meeting) is an official meeting subject to open meeting laws because they are being held for the purpose of deliberation and transaction of the public business,” Rowell tweeted. “The law is also clear that a governing body cannot meet in groups less than a quorum/majority for the purpose of evading the spirit and purpose of the law.

“The board only needs to ask itself one question – why are the groups limited to 3 members?” he continued. “Answer – to avoid having a majority, which is evidence of clear intent to evade the spirit and purpose of the law.”

Rowell called on the board to open up the meetings, which are held virtually.

“Why should the discussion of public business with town staff so important to the decision making process exclude members of the public?” he asked.


Large Pickleball Facility Planned for Cornelius

The proliferation of pickleball in Mecklenburg County continues, as developers this week unveiled plans for The Serve Pickleball & Kitchen, a new 65,000-square-foot state-of-the-art facility with 16 indoor/outdoor pickleball courts, a restaurant with more than 100 seats, four Top Golf Swing Suite Studios and other amenities.

The Cornelius Board of Commissioners is expected to hold a public hearing for the development in January 2024 and vote no later than April.


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