RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) — North Carolina legislators are headed back to Raleigh to consider a move by leadership to delay the primary elections to June and perhaps eliminate runoff elections.
The issue is an election was already delayed that could be delayed further because the maps used to determine who votes for whom might be changed, and the campaign windows might be too tight, causing, yes, delays.
GOP leaders in the General Assembly are suggesting that the primary be moved back from its already new date of May 17 to June 7.
A bill is being filed to facilitate that change, and legislators are convening and discussing, and not everyone agrees that this is necessary.
First, the background: Candidate filing was scheduled to end in mid-December for a primary election on March 8, a time frame that already had been compressed because delayed census data had stalled the General Assembly’s ability to create the election district maps in a timely manner.
Those currently in use weren’t adopted until Nov. 5, about a month before filing was scheduled to begin.
But then there were lawsuits about whether the district lines for candidates were drawn appropriately, and the NC Supreme Court in December stopped candidate filing and pushed back the primary to May while courts considered three challenges to the maps.
Then last week, a 3-judge panel in Wake County Superior Court ruled that the maps could go forward, and they reset the filing period from 8 a.m. Feb. 22 through noon on March 4.
But the plaintiffs in that suit appealed to the NC Supreme Court, which has scheduled oral arguments for Feb. 2, that the maps were the product of an unfair political gerrymander designed to expand and cement Republican power in a state that is more balanced in its voting.
What and when justices might rule is certainly up in the air, and state elections officials have said they would need the final maps, as is or otherwise, no later than Feb. 18 to accommodate a primary on May 17.
That election will decide nominees for Richard Burr’s U.S. Senate seat, 14 congressional seats, the state legislature and courts and a variety of municipal elections that vary based on locations.
Candidates had filed in many of those races before the practice was stopped, but that mostly was in judicial and local races.
Now comes the idea the court review could leave insufficient time to get final maps to elections officials. The idea is to postpone but also eliminate the runoff elections that are required if the person leading in a race involving three or more candidates doesn’t get at least 30% of the vote (a change from the previous 40%).
All of that is a big can of worms that lawmakers may not have expected—or did they?
“There was a forecast a year ago that this was going to be delayed,” state Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Greensboro) told FOX8.
“Personally, I feel like it seems premature to pass this legislation based on what Supreme Court is going to do. If the Supreme court agrees with the 3-judge panel, it’s not necessary to move the primary.”
GOP state Sen. Ralph Hise told The News & Observer of Raleigh that the current schedule “is an extremely short time frame that will cause unnecessary confusion and chaos.”
Todd R. Barlow, chief of staff for House Democratic Leader Robert Reives II, released this statement on Tuesday afternoon:
“A three judge panel has found the Republicans intentionally gerrymandered districts to deny voters an opportunity to elect candidates of their choice. The NC Supreme Court now has the case. We should wait for their decision and, if it is necessary to move the primary, the court can do so.”
A separate issue in this concept, Harrison said, is what to do with municipal elections that are unaffected by the Supreme Court’s possible changes to congressional and legislative maps.
Almost every city and county in the Piedmont Triad has at least one or two local races for their councils and boards of commissioners, and some school board races also are up for consideration.
The city of Greensboro already was in a unique position. It was scheduled to have its races for mayor and city council last November, but the delayed census data needed to draw lines in the city’s district races – some council members serve districts; the mayor and three others are at-large – caused a postponement.
This change could mean the council wouldn’t seat new members until well more than six months had passed in the term they would serve.
“There is some thought to move the municipal elections – proposed for July 26,” Harrison said. “I think they will be considered separately.”
Those races require runoffs, and those second-chance votes are a key reason that some legislators are balking at this schedule.
“There’s no time for a runoff [between the primary and general election],” Harrison said. “We have [roughly] 19 judges running. Several years ago there was a vacancy – maybe a decade ago – when there were 19 judges running for that seat.”
“If there’s no runoff, the one with the most votes wins. You could have a fringe candidate get 10 percent of the vote and win.”