The North Carolina General Assembly today voted to override Governor Cooper’s veto of SB 656—a bill that eliminates primary elections for state judges next year. This move is simply the latest in a long line of attempts by North Carolina’s legislative leaders to rig the system in their favor. After courts overturned the General Assembly’s illegally gerrymandered legislative maps and the worst voter suppression law in the country, legislators are now seeking to rig the court system itself.
The ACLU of North Carolina supported SB 656 when it was introduced back in April. The original version made it easier for candidates who are unaffiliated with a political party to get on the ballot and also reduced the number of signatures required to form a political party. The ACLU supports efforts like these to increase voter participation.
But the version of SB 656 that lawmakers ultimately passed today, after the Governor vetoed it, is likely to cause nothing but voter headaches in the 2018 general election. First, SB 656 was amended to exclude legislative elections from the new, lower threshold required for candidates to get on the ballot if they are not affiliated with a political party. That means that unaffiliated candidates for statewide and local office will have to follow one standard while unaffiliated candidates for the General Assembly will have a higher bar, making it more difficult for them to get on the ballot. Second, without a judicial primary next year, voters will face a lengthy ballot with a long list of unfamiliar names vying for the same judgeships. And we know that the longer and more confusing the ballot, the less likely people are to complete it.
The General Assembly will reconvene in January 2018 to further debate changes to North Carolina’s judiciary—despite many voices calling for a more deliberate, bipartisan process. Between now and then, legislators need to hear from you!
Call your legislators and oppose the judicial gerrymanders that prompted this law. We the people want an independent judicial branch and will accept nothing less.