NC Republicans are pushing for primary election delay with runoffs. Democrats are skeptical of the plan.

After pushback from state elections officials, Republicans will call for July 26 runoffs

Posted Updated

Bryan Anderson
, WRAL statehouse reporter
North Carolina Republicans on Tuesday unveiled a proposal to push back primary elections to June 7. The three-week delay aims to give the party ample time to redraw voting maps if the state Supreme Court next month strikes down recently approved legislative and congressional boundaries.
After receiving pushback from the state Board of Elections over their initial plan to do away with runoff elections in cases where no candidate captures 30% of the vote, Republicans decided to set a July 26 second primary date for all elections, according to Pat Ryan, a spokesman for GOP Senate leader Phil Berger.

U.S. House and other federal contests where no candidate crosses the 30% threshold are decided between the two highest vote-getters 10 weeks after the first primary under existing state law. If such a situation arises this year, the runoff will be held seven weeks later upon the request of the candidate who gets the second largest share of votes.

Ryan said the bill will work its way through the state House and Senate on Wednesday. He said Democratic legislative leaders were informed of the plan to delay the primary over the weekend and voiced minimal resistance at the time. But on Tuesday top Democrats spoke out against the postponement.

Senate Democratic leader Dan Blue said in a statement that he and his caucus will oppose the plan. State Sen. Wiley Nickel, a Wake County Democrat competing in a crowded Democratic congressional primary, said he doesn’t trust Republicans to redraw fairly if the court orders it.

“Republican legislators had their chance and offered yet another extreme partisan gerrymander,” Nickel said in a statement. “We can’t trust Republican legislators to redraw voting maps in an honest and transparent process.”

By postponing the election, Republicans would have more time to redraw if the high court rules against them. They’d also be in a better position to avoid the prospects of a special master being appointed to set the legislative boundaries ahead of the 2022 primary election.

State elections officials have said they need maps finalized by Feb. 18 in order to maintain the current primary schedule.

The high court is set to hear the redistricting case Feb. 2. State law requires lawmakers to have at least two weeks to draw new boundaries if a court strikes down ones currently in place. If the Supreme Court issues a ruling against Republicans after Feb. 18 or shortly ahead of that date, Republicans fear they could effectively lose control over the process.

A redraw would take place if the court sides with voting rights groups accusing Republicans of violating the state constitution by drawing maps for pure partisan gain and to dilute the voting power of racial minorities in a way that stifles peoples’ rights to a free and fair election.

Four registered Democrats and three registered Republicans are on the Supreme Court. GOP lawyers want two Democratic justices to recuse themselves, while voting rights groups want one GOP justice off the case. If the court’s decision is evenly split, then the maps GOP lawmakers passed last fall would stay in place.

In a state that is nearly evenly divided politically, Republicans would be poised to boost their representation in the General Assembly and U.S. House under the current maps. They are likely to get 10 or 11 of the 14 U.S. House seats up for grabs, up from their current 8-5 advantage over Democrats. The GOP would also be in a better position to gain veto-proof majorities in the legislature.

The state’s Democratic governor could reject the GOP proposal to push back the primary. Gov. Roy Cooper’s office on Tuesday issued a statement urging lawmakers to “avoid additional attempts to undermine the voting process.” Cooper’s office declined to say whether the governor would veto any bill that extends the current primary schedule.


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