Candidate filing for North Carolina’s 2022 primary elections will resume at 8 a.m. on Feb. 24, the N.C. State Board of Elections announced on Wednesday.

The announcement comes a day after a three-judge panel upheld state legislative and congressional district maps approved in November by the GOP-controlled General Assembly. The ruling is expected to be considered by the full state Supreme Court.

“State Board of Elections staff will immediately begin preparing for the continuation of the candidate filing period, including securing a location to ensure the health and safety of staff and candidates,” Karen Brinson Bell, State Board executive director, said. “We will provide all details to the public as soon as possible at NCSBE.gov and through an announcement distributed to the media.”

Filing for local, state and federal offices was halted Dec. 8 by the court when it decided to take up a challenged by voting rights groups that said the new districts were unconstitutionally gerrymandered to favor Republicans. The new filing period will end at noon on March 4 under a new court order and elections are scheduled for May 17.

Many candidates were able to file Dec. 6-8. Those candidates do not have to refile.

Meanwhile, a separate court order on Tuesday ordered the suspension of any challenges to candidates for U.S. House, N.C. House and N.C. Senate, until final resolution of the litigation in the redistricting cases.

A challenge was filed against congressional candidate Madison Cawthorn of Asheville on Monday, and the State Board was planning to appoint a panel to hear that challenge on Wednesday as required by state law.

In accordance with the court’s order, the State Board canceled its meeting, and consideration of that pending challenge is postponed until resolution of the redistricting cases.

The Associated Press reported on Tuesday that a panel of three Supreme Court judges refused Tuesday to throw out redistricting maps drawn by the General Assembly, rejecting arguments that the lines were illegal because they were politically stacked for the GOP.

The unanimous decision by the three trial judges, which followed a quick trial last week, will be appealed by the advocacy groups and voters — some backed by a national Democratic group — who challenged the new congressional and legislative lines in court.

The state Supreme Court, which will have the final say on the maps, had ordered the trial judges to rule by Tuesday, apparently to discourage further delays in the 2022 election schedule.

“At the end of the day, after carefully and fully conducting our analysis, it is clear that plaintiffs’ claims must fail,” Superior Court Judges Graham Shirley, Nathaniel Poovey and Dawn Layton wrote in the nearly 260-page order.

The Supreme Court justices had already postponed the scheduled March 8 primary to May 17 and suspended candidate filing while the trial judges heard testimony and ultimately received about 1,000 exhibits. Maps would need to be finalized — whether under the enacted plans or with court-ordered changes — by Feb. 18 to carry out the May primary, according to the State Board of Elections.

The plaintiffs’ witnesses declared the boundaries were manipulated according to the political leanings and the racial composition of voters so that, even in good Democratic years, the GOP could hold 10 of the state’s 14 U.S. House seats as well as state House and Senate majorities that are almost unbreakable. That contrasts with North Carolina’s statewide elections, which are usually closely divided.

While the trial judges took note of the plaintiffs’ evidence of partisanship in the lines from mathematicians and other political researchers, they wrote they could not declare the legislators’ actions violated state constitution provisions like those protecting free elections and free speech. They called the redistricting process inherently political and said many of the lawsuits’ claims fall outside the scope of legal redress.

One mathematician, Wesley Pegden of Carnegie Mellon University, declared his algorithmic analysis found mapmakers intentionally chose maps crafted more carefully for GOP advantage than at least 99.9% — and in some cases 99.999% — of all possible alternatives.

The broad evidence indicates the maps “are a result of intentional, pro-Republican partisan redistricting,” the judges wrote.

“This court neither condones the enacted maps nor their anticipated potential results,” they added. “Despite our disdain for having to deal with issues that potentially lead to results incompatible with democratic principles and subject our state to ridicule, this court must remind itself that these maps are the result of a democratic process.”

Republicans currently hold eight of the state’s 13 congressional seats, so the state’s GOP remap could help the party take back the U.S. House. North Carolina gained a House seat for the next decade based on population growth in the 2020 census.

Republicans maintain the redistricting process was transparent and prohibited the use of racial and political data. Redistricting is in the purview of the legislature, GOP lawyers said, and a state Supreme Court ruling of the early 2000s said some partisan advantage can be taken into consideration. They accused the plaintiffs of wanting to replace the will of lawmakers with the will of computers and algorithm developers with maps that favor Democrats.

“Free and fair elections are the result of an open and honest process,” House Speaker Tim Moore said in a news release praising the decision. “The General Assembly’s maps were drawn in the light of day, after months of public comment and feedback.”

A panel of trial judges reached a different outcome in 2019, declaring there was evidence that GOP legislators created extreme partisan gerrymanders when drawing U.S. House districts in 2016 and legislative districts in 2017. The legislature redrew those maps. The U.S. Supreme Court had decided earlier in 2019 that it wouldn’t get involved in partisan redistricting claims but left the door open for state courts to intervene.

“We are confident that the people of North Carolina will ultimately prevail in our fight for fair maps,” Bob Phillips with Common Cause North Carolina — one of the lawsuits’ plaintiffs — said after the ruling’s release. Another plaintiff, the North Carolina League of Conservation Voters, and an affiliate of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee associated with the case also said appeals were next.

Poovey and Shirley are registered Republicans while Layton is a Democrat. Four of the seven state Supreme Court justices are registered Democrats, but there are already efforts to have one of the four recuse himself from the redistricting case.

Republicans have asked Associate Justice Sam Ervin IV, a registered Democrat, to stay out of the deliberations because as the only sitting member running for reelection this year, his decisions could create “a situation where his own impartiality may reasonably be questioned.”

Contact Bobby Burns at baburns@reflector.com and 329.9572.