Lawmakers move to change congressional primary date, eliminate runoff elections

Posted February 18, 2016
Updated February 19, 2016

— North Carolina will be dealing with what amounts to two sets of congressional elections over the next month, a chaotic situation brought about by a federal court order over redistricting.

Members of the state Senate approved new congressional district maps Thursday afternoon in response to a federal court ruling that found the General Assembly illegally relied on race during the 2011 redistricting process.

At the same time the maps were redrawn, House members worked out the timing for the new congressional elections.

That bill passed the state House shortly before 8 p.m. on a 71-32 vote. Senators are due to take up the bill Friday, when the House reviews the map.

The elections date measure calls for a June 7 election, unless the U.S. Supreme Court steps in to stay the lower court order that demanded the new maps.

So until March 15, candidates running under the maps drawn in 2011 will have to keep running. If no stay is forthcoming, those results will be thrown out, and a new filing period for those who want to run for Congress under the new maps will open on March 16 and run though March 25.

That means candidates planning to run in the June 7 primary will have to begin maneuvering for that election even as those running in the March 15 primary keep stumping for votes.

When asked about this, House Redistricting Committee Chairman David Lewis, R-Harnett, acknowledged that it creates a confusing set of circumstances.

"I think the gentlemen points out that confusion and uncertainty that, in the opinion of this chair, this court order has caused," Lewis said.

Second primaries eliminated

The bill also eliminates runoff primaries for 2016.

Under current law, candidates running for office need to get at least 40 percent of the votes cast in order to avoid a second primary. If the leading candidate in a race falls under that threshold, the second place finisher can call for a runoff.

Lawmakers eliminated those runoff elections for 2016, pointing out the timing crunch created by having to hold a second congressional election.

That could have a major impact in elections with more than three candidates and no prohibitive front-runner.

For example, in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, former Rep. Deborah Ross, D-Wake, is running against three challengers. She is the best funded and probably best known candidate. However, if she failed to reach 40 percent under the current election rules, a challenger such as Spring Lake Mayor Chris Rey or Durham businessman Kevin Griffin would have a chance to corral more support in a second primary.

Republican 2nd District Congresswoman Renee Ellmers has up until now faced three challengers in her primary. Each of those is arguing that he or she is a more conservative option. With no second primary, a second-place finisher would not have the chance to consolidate support form the party's conservative wing.

Of course, if the Supreme Court does step in, that new political reality is thrown out. A stay by the Supreme Court would activate a clause in the bill making all votes cast on March 15, including the ones for Congress, count and bringing back the second primary for all those races.

Running and running again

The bill also creates the possibility that one politician could find himself or herself running for two offices at once.

That's because someone running for legislature or another office, such as county commissioner, could win that primary and then file to run for the June 7 congressional primary. If the candidate wins the congressional primary as well, that person would have a choice to make.

"You would have to withdraw from one of those two offices," said Rep. Bert Jones, R-Rockingham, the lead author of the election bill.

Candidates would be given about a week to decide which race they wanted to run in.

Rep. Darren Jackson, D-Wake, proposed moving all of the state's primary elections back until June 21, including those running for Congress, president and a $2 billion bond referendum.

Jones objected, saying that such a move would "create chaos" for those running for a host of offices up and down the ballot.

Rep. Grier Martin, D-Wake, backed Jackson, saying the amendment would simplify matters for voters.

"It will reduce the likelihood of chaos not only for the candidates but for the North Carolinians they seek to serve," Martin said.

Members of the House rejected the amendment.

Happy to see it

Rep. Elmer Floyd, D-Cumberland, celebrated the elimination of the second primaries, even if it is only temporary. He has long argued that second primaries are costly and a vestige of days when second primaries were used as tools to keep black candidates out of office.

"I'm happy to just see it tried this year," Floyd said.

Jones said that the reason they were eliminated this year had to do with timing. He said the State Board of Elections could not juggle holding a second primary for all other elections while getting ready for the congressional primary.

Barring future complications, he said, the state would once again have second primaries in 2018.


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  • Hamilton Bean Feb 19, 2016
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    my point is this: The people in the majority party at the time will be making the selections--not necessairly members of the GA--but members of the majority party nonetheless. Who do you think they will pick?

  • Steve Clark Feb 19, 2016
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    In all seriousness and fairness Jonathan, the Dems were in charge of drawing districts for 100 yrs. So to say the Repub argument is 'getting old' or 'getting ridiculous' just isn't factual.

    I agree with you, the Repubs complained the whole way... but they managed to win a majority anyway - that should tell us something.

    And lastly - ask yourself (objectively) "why does this happen?" I believe you'll come to the realization, that it's due to *ahem ... 'very predictable voting patterns of certain demographics'.

    Maybe THAT is what should be looked into, hmm?

  • Steve Clark Feb 19, 2016
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    I'm with you Jonathan... then next time the Dems are up to redraw the districts, I think we should bring in an Independent Panel :-)

    Honestly, Just as a couple of others have pointed out... WHO gets appointed to that "ind pan" and WHO is in charge of appointing? .. .Just keep in mind, the SCOTUS is [i]supposed [i] to be an 'ind pan' too... just sayin'

  • Roy Hinkley Feb 19, 2016
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    There are many different ways to determine membership of an independent commission, it need not be solely by appointment from the GA.

  • Hamilton Bean Feb 19, 2016
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    All this noise about "an independent panel" being appointed to redraw the district maps. Question---just WHO is going to be making those appointments and who do you think they will pick???

  • Jonathan Barnes Feb 19, 2016
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    The real problem here, is that NC needs to do the right thing (Republicans and Democrats) and have an independent third party redraw the districts. That's the only way to have a fair, democratic election. Both sides of the aisle push for this whenever their side isn't in power, and they swiftly change their mind on the issue once they find themselves in power. It is getting ridiculous.

  • Jonathan Barnes Feb 19, 2016
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    You seem to be missing most of the backstory on this.
    Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, and Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett were the two senators that pushed for redistricting. Republicans mostly seem to be upset at the fact that the court decision came so close to primaries, which is causing a scramble. The "judicial activist judge, who is a member of the current minority party" that you speak of, was actually a 3-person panel of federal judges.
    OH OH OH and the most important part that you are leaving out is that the 2 districts that were ordered to be redrawn are actually represented by Democrats. So at some point, you should really just sit back and enjoy what's going on, because it looks to work out in your favor.

  • Brandon White Feb 19, 2016
    user avatar

    This is just an example of what is wrong with government. A judicial activist judge, who is a member of the current minority party, (Democrats), did not like the political advantage the new maps gave the majority Republicans. So he rules against the party he opposes. There would not have been an issue if the Democrats drew these maps. The loser is the voter, who votes with the majority, and then sees a judge overrule the representatives the voters elected.

    That is not democracy, but tyrannical fiat, which the Democrats support for pure politics.