By Brian Murphy

North Carolina's 13 congressional districts will remain in place and so will the Nov. 6, 2018, election, a federal three-judge panel ruled Tuesday.

The panel ruled last week that the districts are unconstitutional due to "partisan gerrymandering" designed to produce 10 Republican seats. But, with the election only two months away, the plaintiffs in the case _ the North Carolina chapters of Common Cause and The League of Women Voters _ argued that it was too late to change the maps despite their victory.

On Tuesday, the court agreed.

"We conclude that there is insufficient time for this Court to approve a new districting plan and for the State to conduct an election using that plan prior to the seating of the new Congress in January 2019. And we further find that imposing a new schedule for North Carolina's congressional elections would, at this late juncture, unduly interfere with the State's electoral machinery and likely confuse voters and depress turnout," the court wrote in a four-page order.

In its initial ruling, the court left open the possibility of drawing new districts this year and, potentially, postponing the congressional elections in North Carolina.

The defendants, including North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger, suggested Dec. 18 as the most "administratively feasible" date for the election if the districts had to be redrawn.

A post-November election could have put North Carolina in the national spotlight with control of the House of Representatives up for grabs. Democrats need to win a net of 23 seats to take control from Republicans. Democrats, who hold just three House seats from North Carolina, are running tight races in at least three Republican-held districts across the state.

But the plaintiffs wrote in a brief to the court that they were concerned about voter confusion and depressed turnout if the districts were redrawn and the election were held later.

"Attempting to impose a new districting plan in time for the 2018 election would be too disruptive and potentially counterproductive," the plaintiffs wrote.

North Carolina redrew its congressional districts for the 2016 elections after maps drawn in 2011 were declared unconstitutional due to racial gerrymandering by a panel of federal judges. Both sets of maps were drawn by Republican lawmakers in the state legislature.

The judges have ruled that the current congressional districts cannot be used after the 2018 elections.

(c)2018 McClatchy Washington Bureau