Local News

N.C. General Assembly To Decide On Contested State School Superintendent Election

Posted May 10, 2005

— Six months after the election for state school superintendent, North Carolina lawmakers will decide who won the race.

Last week, the state justice department cleared the way for the North Carolina General Assembly to choose the state school superintendent.

On Monday, Democratic candidate June Atkinson wasted no time filing her petition to the General Assembly. "For the sake of public education, I want this soap opera to play its final episode soon," Atkinson said.

Atkinson is calling on lawmakers to declare her the next state school superintendent. Although she led Republican Bill Fletcher by more than 8,000 votes after Nov. 2, he tied up her certification in the courts, and said he does not plan to back down now.

"Nothing substantive has changed," Fletcher said.

A surprise announcement on Monday could bring added pressure in the state school superintendent's race. Interim Superintendent Tricia Willoughby announced she is stepping down on June 1.

"It was time for me to get on with the other obligations. I agreed to stay on well beyond the January deadline," Willoughby said. "It is time for someone to take over."

Voting rights advocates believe enough is enough. Chris Heagarty, of the Center for Voter Education, said North Carolina has taken over for Florida as the poster child for disputed elections.

"It used to be you'd have an election, people would vote, and then you accepted the results," Heagarty said. "Now, it seems that if there's an election and you don't like the results, you either litigate or you legislate."

Lawmakers have set up procedures for them to decide the contested election, as well as any future ones for the legislature or Council of State.

With Democrats in control, political observers believe Fletcher's chances are slim.

Fletcher now has 10 days to file his arguments against Atkinson's certification. He said he still hopes the courts will intervene and prevent that from happening.

In the meantime, House and Senate leaders are moving forward on naming a special committee made up of five senators and five House members to consider the race. No more than three from each chamber can be Democrats.

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