A panel of three state Superior Court judges has delayed the start of the candidate-filing period for North Carolina's proposed congressional districts.

The judges decided late Wednesday to put on hold the filing period that was set to begin at noon Dec. 2 until they issue a new order in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the districts.

The state Board of Elections cannot accept any filing notices by incumbents or challengers. The filing period remains — for now — scheduled to end at noon Dec. 20.

As a result, Forsyth County voters will have to wait to see if Republican incumbents Mark Walker (6th District) and Patrick McHenry (10th District) file to run in their respective redrawn districts, or opt to face another Republican incumbent in Ted Budd in the 13th District.

The 6th would include all of Winston-Salem, most of Kernersville and about half of Walkertown. Guilford County would account for 66.59% of the new 6th's population base.

McHenry plans to run for his ninth term in the 10th. The redrawn 10th would swap in a portion of Forsyth, the vast majority of Iredell and all of Rockingham, Stokes, Surry and Yadkin counties.

Because U.S. House representatives don’t have to live in the district they represent, they could choose to run elsewhere from where they are based now.

Walker has hinted that instead of running for a fourth term in what would be a Democratic-leaning 6th, he might run in the 10th or the 13th since he as represented counties in both districts, either currently or in the recent past.

“Rep. Walker is going to run where his constituents are, said Jack Minor, a spokesman for Walker’s 2020 reelection campaign.

Walker told Politico that “they have taken the bulk of my district and put the constituents in two other districts, so we’re kind of looking at all these options.”

“I mean, you want to do what’s right, ethically. But if you have the bulk of the people that you represent, have just been — a line’s been moved over — I mean, is that something you take a look at?”

New, repeat challengers?

Rural voters have made the 5th and 6th districts among the most reliable Republican seats in North Carolina over the past 35 years.

However, given the recent voting trends in Forsyth and Guilford counties, there’s a considerable possibility that the redrawn 6th could tilt Democratic in the 2020 general election.

In the 2018 congressional races affecting Forsyth and Guilford counties, there were a combined 196,238 votes cast for Democratic candidates DD Adams (77,054, 5th), Ryan Watts (38,402, 6th) and Kathy Manning (80,782, 13th), and a combined 138,832 votes for Republicans Virginia Foxx (60,303), Walker (31,956), and Ted Budd (46,573, 13th).

That reality could spur the same Democrats to run again in 2020, or could attract new candidates encouraged by the potential Democratic lean.

Angela Flynn is the only announced 2020 Democratic candidate for the 6th; no Democratic has declared for the 5th.

“If the 6th District ends up looking the way it does in the map currently being discussed in the legislature, we can expect a contest in the Democratic primary between some candidates with an electoral base in Greensboro and other candidates with an electoral base in Winston-Salem," said John Dinan, a political science professor at Wake Forest University and a national expert on state legislatures.

“But there’s no telling which of these types of candidates would prevail in the Democratic primary and likely the general election.”

Lawsuit background

The map that splits Forsyth was the result of legislators responding to the judges' Oct. 28 granting of the plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction on conducting the 2020 primary and general elections on the state's 13 congressional districts.

Judges Joseph Crosswhite, Alma Hinton and Paul Ridgeway were assigned to the lawsuit of Rebecca Harris vs. N.C. Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, in 2016.

Wednesday's order was in response to liberal advocacy group National Redistricting Foundation filing a lawsuit shortly after the Republican-controlled General Assembly passed a congressional redistricting map Nov. 14.

The judges encouraged legislators to redraw the congressional map to avoid delaying the March 3 congressional primaries. The State Board of Elections said it needs a congressional redistricting map by mid-December.

A motion for summary judgment on the plaintiffs' motion is set for 9 a.m. Dec. 2.

The judges suggested that legislators attempt a redrawing of the congressional map to result in districts "more likely to achieve the constitutional objective of allowing those elections to be conducted more freely and honestly to ascertain, fairly and truthfully, the will of the people."

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