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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina's second-largest county will hold local elections this fall using boundaries from 2011, a federal judge ordered Tuesday, responding to an appeals court that ruled against more recent lines drawn by Republican legislators.
Wake County has more than 1 million people and represents 10 percent of the state's population.
The county's "population exceeds the population of six states. Wake County voters deserve to have a timely and orderly election for the school board and board of commissioners," U.S. District Judge James Dever said.
The judge said he considered other maps but considered the 2011 boundaries the "most equitable remedy."
The elections for two-year terms will be held for all nine school board seats and three of the seven current commissioner seats.
The judge ruled after seeking advice from election officials, legislative leaders and local voters who sued over the most recent maps. The Wake elections board needed a decision Tuesday, according to Dever.
Dever stepped in after the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last month struck down the boundaries drawn by legislators set for use this year, rejecting his earlier ruling to uphold them.
The appeals court said the districts approved by the General Assembly were too imbalanced by population. Two of the three appeals judges agreed it was more likely than not that "illegitimate factors predominated" how lawmakers drew districts to benefit Republicans. Democrats had been elected to majorities in each body under the old plans.
The legislature's district boundaries for commissioners approved in 2015 were identical to the school board boundaries approved in 2013, so the commission would have increased from seven to nine seats. There would have been seven single-member districts elected by voters living in those respective districts, with two additional regional seats.
Following the 4th Circuit decision, legislative leaders submitted Dever an "illustrative" replacement plan that adjusted the GOP plans. Dever also looked at a 2015 proposal from state Rep. Rosa Gill, D-Wake.
Dever said neither plan was viable because they had not yet been coded into the Wake election board's computer, delaying action weeks before the first absentee ballots are mailed. That led Dever to the 2011 boundaries, which are already coded.
Dever's order opens the door to the General Assembly redrawing the maps when it reconvenes in January.
There will have to be a candidate filing period but there isn't enough time for a primary for the commission seats. The school board is officially nonpartisan and doesn't have primaries.
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