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NC Lawmakers Expected to Make Big Changes to Election Law

The State Assembly is expected to override the veto of controversial legislation that will greatly impact how the state's judges are elected. (Brian Turner/flickr)
The State Assembly is expected to override the veto of controversial legislation that will greatly impact how the state's judges are elected. (Brian Turner/flickr)
October 17, 2017

RALEIGH, N.C. – It was a late night for the North Carolina Senate on Monday - as members voted to override Gov. Roy Cooper's veto of legislation that would eliminate judicial primary elections in 2018, among other things.

The state House is expected to make a similar vote this morning. If the Electoral Freedom Act (SB 656) becomes law, it would allow judges to be elected with much less than the majority vote.

Dawn Blagrove, attorney and executive director of the Carolina Justice Policy Center explains how that might impact next year's ballot.

"What essentially will happen is that you could have anywhere from one to 100 people who decide they want to run for that judicial seat," she explains. "We completely lose the ability to elect someone as a community, by a majority vote."

Critics of the legislation, including Gov. Cooper, say it's intended to make it easier to oust Democratic judges, many of whom have been ruling Republican-led laws unconstitutional. In addition to impacting judicial elections, the bill reduces ballot requirements for third-party candidates. Supporters of the legislation say it will increase access to the ballot for all candidates.

Blagrove says she speculates this is the first step in an attempt to remove the selection of justices from the election process altogether.

"I believe that the end game here is to ultimately end up with the right to elect judges being removed from the people and ultimately having justices be appointed by the General Assembly," she says.

The ability to orchestrate a judicial shake-up in next year's election with the elimination of a primary also could force many African-American and Democratic judges to run against each other. The state's judges are expected to rule in a number of cases that would impact Republican-supported legislation.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC