Wake commissioner says court case unfairly blocks her from re-election campaign

Posted August 22, 2016

Wake County Commissioner Caroline Sullivan

— Wake County Commissioner Caroline Sullivan says a collision of legislative action and court rulings have kept her from filing for re-election, and she wants election officials to let her back into the race.

Sullivan, a Democrat and the incumbent in District 4 on the Board of Commissioners, had a choice when she filed for election this year. She could have filed to run to keep her seat, one of three local district posts that are up for election this fall. Instead, she choose to run in one of two new regional districts. District A is centered over Raleigh and fills in the territory not covered by District B, a doughnut that runs around Wake County's suburban and rural edges.

However, a federal appeals court ruled those two regional districts were part of an unconstitutional redistricting scheme. In order to put the court's decision in place, U.S. District Judge James Dever had to open an entirely news filing period for school board seats, which were set to be wholly different from legal districts drawn in 2011. But county commissioner seats were not set to change over as quickly. The numbered local districts for 2016 were the same as drawn in 2011.

So Dever simply eliminated the two regional county commissioner districts. Because he did not open a new filing period for the local districts, which would have required a new primary election, Sullivan was left without a regional race to run in but unable to file for re-election to her current seat.

"It is unfortunate and indisputably inconvenient to have an election schedule interrupted. Dispensing with constitutional rights of voters and candidates for the sake of convenience, however, is too high a price," Sullivan's lawyer, Shannon Joseph, wrote to the State Board of Elections last week.

Joseph went on to demand the state stop the election for county commissioners and open a new filing period, even if it would mean delaying the election.

Joshua Lawson, general counsel for the state board, replied over the weekend that the board had no plans to open a new filing period but would comply with any directives of the court.

Joseph said that excluding Sullivan would set "a precedent that is not palatable or consistent with our state constitution." She pointed out that everyone who filed to run for office in Wake County made their decisions based on an unconstitutional redistricting plan.

Sullivan has now asked Dever to step in.

In documents filed with the court late Monday, Sullivan asks for permission to intervene in the long running redistricting case. Further, she asks Dever to order one of three solutions:

  • Create a new filing period for the new districts.
  • Vacate the results of the spring primary. That would allow local parties to appoint new candidates.
  • Order any candidate who filed in primary be allowed to stand for election in the remaining districts.

Wake County did open and close the school board filing period already, and those new candidate names are already on sample ballots. However, those races are nonpartisan and will be decided by plurality vote, with no primary or runoff. Opening a filing period in the county commissioner races would likely require a new primary, which lawyers on all sides of the redistricting case have said in court would complicate, if not delay, this fall's commissioner elections.

In a phone interview late Monday, Sullivan blamed lawmakers for creating chaos in Wake County and other elections this year. That said, she added, it would be unfair to exclude candidates who acted in good faith under a system later found to be unconstitutional.

"Just because it is chaotic doesn't mean we shouldn't do things properly," Sullivan said.

Asked why she was willing to pursue legal options to try to keep her seat, Sullivan said, "I really wanted to run for re-election. I think this job is important," adding that she wanted to see through mental health and other projects she is working on.

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  • John Lobenstein Aug 22, 2016
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    would Wake County Commissioner Caroline Sullivan be in this predicament if she and other special snowflakes did not, had not, waited until the last minute to conduct their partisan temper tantrums? She can not run unopposed so the state's elections laws must be scraped.