Election season is heating up. And, in case you don’t remember, all nine school board seats are up for re-election next fall. About half of the seats would have been up for election this most recent election cycle. However, in 2013 Senate Bill 325 (signed into law in June 2013) made major changes to how school board members are elected in Wake County. Election districts were redrawn and what were nine individual districts became seven individual districts with two at-large districts.
The law has been challenged in court on the basis that. The case was filed in August 2013 and dismissed in March 2014. The dismissal was successfully appealed in May 2015, and the trial will happen this month.
School board members heard an overview of the case from attorney Adam Mitchell of Tharrington Smith. The case charges that the redistricting decisions made by Senate Bill 325 violate the one person, one vote constitutional rule under the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. In essence, the rule states that voting districts must have an equal number of voters.
Currently, counsel noted, the individual districts created by Senate Bill 325 have a variance of 7.82 percent (4.19 under and 3.63 over) while the at-large districts have a 9.8 percent variance (4.9 percent under and over equal division). Further, counsel explained that equal has been defined as within 10 percent variance. A variance of greater than 10 percent would result in one vote possibly counting less or more than another vote in a different district.
For comparison, the 2011 election districts, drawn by Kieran Shanahan while Ron Margiotta was chair of the school board, has a 2 percent variance. Districts were are equal within a 2 percent (under 0.81 percent and over 0.93 percent) variance of equal population distribution.
The case also charges that the districts are less geographically compact (Mitchell noted district shapes like “fingers and appendages”) and confusing. You can see images of the past and current district maps here.) The district shapes have resulted in multiple current school board members ending up in a single district. Mitchell called this “double-bunking incumbents,” and school board member Susan Evans noted that the plan “triple-bunks” three incumbents in one district.
School board members shared their concerns about the plan. Bill Fletcher’s greatest concern, echoed by board member Kevin Hill, is that “all nine seats up for election at one time almost guarantees chaos.” Christine Kushner added that many Wake County municipalities will have multiple school board representatives: Raleigh will have five; Garner and Cary will have four; Fuquay-Varina, Holly Springs, Rolesville, Apex, and Knightdale will all have two.
If you’d like to go, the trial is set for the US District Court Eastern District of North Carolina here in Raleigh on December 16, 2015 at 9:00 AM. (Court schedules are subject to change. Please check the court schedule before making plans to attend.)