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After 1 more ruling, North Carolina candidates begin filing

RALEIGH (AP) Hundreds filed for congressional, legislative and county positions Feb. 12 as the North Carolina candidate period opened, but not before yet another court ruling was issued from reams of pending litigation seeking to alter more districts or filing dates.

Hours before election board offices statewide began accepting candidate forms at noon, a panel of state trial judges denied a motion by Democrats and voting rights groups seeking changes to more than a dozen state House districts in and around Raleigh and Charlotte.

The decision against those who originally sued over General Assembly maps approved in 2011 and favoring Republicans means districts in those areas approved last summer by the GOP-controlled legislature are being used for primary and general elections this year.

Attorneys for Democrats and their allies and Republican lawmakers have been in court seemingly non-stop since the fall over legislative redistricting, congressional redistricting and a law that canceled primaries for judicial elections this year. On Feb. 9, a federal appeals court panel agreed to delay a lower court order that would have restored appeals court primaries and required candidate filing for those jobs to begin Feb. 12, too.

Instead, filing began Feb. 12 for North Carolina’s 13 congressional seats and all 170 seats in the legislature, as well as for local district attorneys and for county positions. According to state elections board data, close to 900 people turned in their paperwork for candidate filing, which continues through midday Feb. 28. Filing for appellate and trial judge seats now doesn’t begin until June.

As for legislative redistricting, the Democrats and voting groups had wanted the lines for Wake and Mecklenburg counties to be identical to those approved by federal judges last month in a similar mapping lawsuit.

The U.S. Supreme Court last week decided those map changes should be delayed while Republican lawmakers appeal in the federal case. But the plaintiffs in the state case argued a state court could intervene because the matter involved whether alterations Republican lawmakers made broke the state constitution’s prohibition against mid-decade redistricting.

The state judges wrote Feb. 12 they were wary of intervening in a case just before candidate filing.

“This state court three-judge panel is reluctant to commence parallel proceedings on an expedited basis out of deference to the highest court and because of significant concerns about the risk of inconsistent and irreconcilable outcomes,” the order reads from Superior Court Judges Paul Ridgeway, Joseph Crosswhite and Alma Hinton.

Republicans praised the ruling. “Time to stop the lawsuits and get the 2018 election underway,” state GOP Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse tweeted.

Allison Riggs, an attorney for some plaintiffs, said their next legal steps are being reviewed but said they are concerned by the orders by the judges not to review the new boundaries. “When a plan is found to be unconstitutional, it’s only right for the court to review the remedy enacted to make sure that it is legal and fair,” she said.

Even with the order, House and Senate districts are very different than they were for the 2016 elections.

The legislature last summer redrew several dozen districts last summer to comply with a federal court’s order that found 28 districts were illegal racial gerrymanders. That court later decided legislators didn’t go far enough, and a special master made more changes.

Still, the district lines put Republicans in a position to retain veto-proof majorities in the chambers, which has helped them advance their conservative-leaning agenda.

But Democrats are energized after successful elections in other states last year and because Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper is helping raise campaign money for them. Democrats need to win four additional House seats or six Senate seats to end the supermajority and give Cooper more legislative leverage.

“A relatively small shift in voters can make a big difference in the outcome of some of these legislative races,” said Jonathan Kappler, executive director of the North Carolina Free Enterprise Foundation, which tracks legislative races for the state’s business community.

Bringing more uncertainty is that there are no likely high-turnout races for U.S. Senate or governor on this year’s ballots statewide. This absence occurs every 12 years in North Carolina. There will be four statewide appellate court races.

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