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@NCCapitol

Court says candidate filing back on for NC congressional, legislative races

Posted December 6, 2021 6:00 a.m. EST
Updated December 6, 2021 6:07 p.m. EST

— Shortly before candidates could start filing their paperwork and officially call themselves candidates for next year's elections, the state Court of Appeals on Monday halted filing for U.S. House and legislative races as it weighs a legal challenge to new district maps adopted last month.

Several hours later, a majority of the judges on the appeals court voted to lifted that stay and hold a hearing on the disputed maps before all 15 judges on the court.

The stay was issued 33 minutes before candidate filing was to start at noon.

"The North Carolina Court of Appeals just issued an order temporarily suspending filing for congressional and legislative offices," Paul Cox, associate general counsel for the State Board of Elections, then told local elections directors in an email.

"By order of the court, the county boards may not file candidates for State House and State Senate until further notice," Cox wrote. "Likewise, the State Board may not file candidates for U.S. House until further notice."

Filing in other races, including North Carolina's U.S. Senate contest, judicial races and local races, continued as planned.

Michele Woodhouse made the four-hour drive from Hendersonville to Raleigh to file as a Republican for the new 14th Congressional District in western North Carolina, only to find out while waiting in line at the State Fairgrounds, where elections officials were handling some of the candidate filing to decrease the crowds at county offices, that it was a wasted trip.

"I was a bit surprised that we heard this late that the Court of Appeals decided to issue a stay," Woodhouse said. "I was talking with [Democratic 12th District] Congresswoman Alma Adams, who was here as well to file, and she was surprised. I think there was surprise on both sides of the aisle."

State elections officials were surprised as well, but they quickly pivoted.

"The norm in North Carolina seems to be that there will be changes to our redistricting process and to our filing process. So, we had contingency plans here today, and the staff has done an incredible job of moving things around [and] notifying the candidates as best we can," said Karen Brinson Bell, the state elections director.

Five years ago, for example, federal courts made lawmakers redraw North Carolina's congressional districts during an election. The state had two filing periods and two congressional primaries in 2016.

By Monday evening, the stay had been lifted, so filing in legislative and congressional races was expected to start Tuesday morning.

The back and forth was prompted by lawsuits by voting rights groups who charge that the new district maps are so biased toward Republicans that they violate the right to a free and fair election. A lower court heard arguments in the suits on Friday and decided not to order a delay, but the issue was appealed to the Court of Appeals and may ultimately be decided by the state Supreme Court.

The Court of Appeals told parties in the case to have written arguments in by Thursday at noon.

Bell said that, if the courts don’t resolve the issue quickly, the primaries will probably have to be delayed from March until May, at least for congressional and legislative races.

"It's a very tight schedule, and it's very complex because we're dealing with federal deadlines for absentee ballots," she said. "Also, [there are] state deadlines for absentee ballots and some municipal schedules that we have to factor in."

Gov. Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein filed a brief with the state Supreme Court on Monday, asking that the high court take over the lawsuit from the Court of Appeals so that the matter could be settled as quickly as possible. Both men are in favor of a court-ordered redraw of the districts.

"In a representative democracy, the voters choose their representatives,” Stein said in a statement. “Partisan gerrymandering distorts our democracy by discriminating against certain voters based on their political views and allowing representatives to cling to power no matter the will of the voters."

The Supreme Court has a 4-3 Democratic majority, while the majority of the Court of Appeals is Republican.

The 14 U.S. House races and 170 General Assembly races are only part of what could become a confusing election season. North Carolina also has a U.S. Senate race in 2022, as well as a slate of judicial, district attorney, county and school board races.

Because lawmakers redrew districts this year, more names on your ballot may be unfamiliar – either because you're in a new district or due to the game of musical chairs this sort of shuffling sets off.

You can double check your voter registration and see what districts you're in online.

In the Triangle, long-time Democratic 4th District Congressman David Price won't stand for re-election, meaning his seat will have a new occupant for the first time since 1997. Out east, Democratic 1st District Congressman G.K. Butterfield also won't run again, triggering a crowded race for his old seat.

North Carolina will get a new U.S. Senator, too, with Republican Sen. Richard Burr's pending retirement. There are no statewide races this year for governor or lieutenant governor, but every seat in the North Carolina House and Senate is up, as they are every two years.

The state's election schedule has been in doubt. Litigants were in court Friday afternoon on multiple lawsuits targeting election maps drawn by the legislature's Republican majority, arguing they're unfair gerrymanders meant to lock in GOP power. The new congressional map alone is expected to elect at least 10 Republican members, despite North Carolina's status as a battleground purple state.

Candidate filing runs through noon Dec. 17 for those races not affected by the Court of Appeals' stay, and the primaries are scheduled for March 8. But that latter date could change if the courts order a redraw of the U.S. House and General Assembly districts.

Candidates for the following offices must file with the state:

  • U.S. Senate
  • U.S. House of Representatives
  • N.C. Supreme Court justice
  • Judge of the N.C. Court of Appeals
  • Superior Court judge
  • District Court judge
  • District attorney

Candidates for the following offices file with their county board of election, though their names will be forwarded to the state board, which publishes a master list of candidates:

  • N.C. Senate
  • N.C. House of Representatives
  • All county offices
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