by Paul Blest
On July 1, the federal Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Wake County commission and school board maps—redrawn by the legislature to be made more favorable to Republicans in the wake of humiliating electoral defeats—were unconstitutional. In the opinion, the three-judge panel wrote: “We see no reason why the November 2016 elections should proceed under the unconstitutional plans we strike down today.”
Thus began a scramble by the Republican Party to fix its mess in time to ensure that the commissioner and school board races were on the ballot in November. This weekend, they came up with what can only be described as the worst possible solution.
On Sunday, U.S. District Court Judge James Dever, a George W. Bush appointee who is overseeing the case and seems to be chafing at the Fourth Circuit’s interference, ordered the Wake County Board of Elections to rank from best to worst four possible scenarios. The options include: reverting to the old maps, the ones in place before the legislature meddled; using new maps put forward by the state GOP; using new maps put forward by Democratic state representative Rosa Gill; and—unbelievably—proceeding with the maps that the Fourth Circuit has already deemed unconstitutional.
Dever gave the board until 4 p.m Monday to figure it out, but there was just one problem: one of the seats on the Wake County Board of Elections has been vacant since last month, when Republican Brian Ratledge resigned in order to become a lawyer for the Department of Administration. (Per North Carolina’s weird setup, county boards of elections are three-member panels comprising two people from the governor’s party and one from the opposition party.)
The solution? The state Board of Elections called an emergency phone meeting with just ninety minutes’ notice to the public, in which officials confirmed a new member: none other than Eddie Woodhouse, a former Raleigh City Council candidate and spokesman for Jesse Helms who is the cousin of state GOP executive director Dallas Woodhouse.
Now Woodhouse, protege of Jesse Helms, cousin of Dallas Woodhouse (executive director of the NC Republican Party) gets to prioritize a plan declared unconstitutional by a judge actively opposed by his former boss Jesse Helms.
“This being done, in this manner and at this stage of the game, only proves the intent of the GOP majority,” says Wake County Democratic Party chairman Brian Fitzsimmons. “They have no regard for public input or intent, because they know that the majority of the public isn’t on their side. Dark rooms and late-night maneuvers are all they can muster at this point, all to ensure conservative control over a county commission."