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Lawmakers plan to cancel 2018 judicial primaries

Posted October 4, 2017 8:29 p.m. EDT
Updated October 4, 2017 11:48 p.m. EDT

— State House and Senate leaders have agreed on a provision that cancels the 2018 primary elections for all judicial races and district attorneys.

The provision was tacked onto the conference report for Senate Bill 656, titled the "Electoral Freedom Act."

Most of the bill deals with easing ballot access requirements for third parties as well as for unaffiliated candidates. It also lowers the threshold for a primary candidate to win his or her party's nomination from 40 percent of the primary vote to 30 percent.

"There are many folks in here who would seek to do away with the second [runoff] primary altogether," sponsor Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, told the House Rules Committee Wednesday evening. "This would be a step at least in the direction of those who feel that way."

However, one section of the bill moves the filing date for all 2018 judicial and district attorney races from February to June and eliminates the requirement for a primary for those races.

Lewis said the reason for the provision is House Bill 717, a judicial redistricting measure that Senate leaders have said they will not take up this week.

"The reason we are delaying the filing for judicial offices is we are serious about judicial redistricting," he said, noting that many members of the public and the judiciary had advised lawmakers to "take our time and get it right."

Eliminating the primary for judicial and district attorney races, he said, "will repeal the need to rush this through prior to filing opening in February."

However, the cancelation would also apply to the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals races scheduled for 2018, even though those wouldn't be affected by House Bill 717.

House Minority Leader Darren Jackson advised against that idea.

"Several of you may remember the election we had several years ago with 19 or 20 candidates for the Court of Appeals," Jackson, D-Wake, argued. "The ballot could be pages and pages and pages long."

"That’s a big policy change," Jackson added. "I don’t think it worked very well the last time we had it."

The measure passed the committee easily and is expected to receive floor votes in both chambers Thursday.

Because Senate Bill 656 is a conference report, members cannot make changes to it. However, Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, said lawmakers could revisit the issue next year if needed.