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December 5, 2022

General Assembly votes to delay North Carolina primary election

The North General Assembly voted Wednesday to delay the primary election by three weeks as the state Supreme Court reviews the state’s new legislative district maps.

The maps were approved by the Republican-led Legislature, but voting advocacy groups have sued to block them, claiming they were drawn to maintain a partisan advantage.

The ongoing legal battle could cause an issue for the current election schedule, lawmakers said. A Supreme Court’s hearing is scheduled for Feb. 2, only 12 days before a North Carolina State Board of Elections deadline for finalizing district lines.

“We anticipate that the Supreme Court is going to uphold the maps that were unanimously upheld by our bipartisan Superior Court panel,” Sen. Warren Daniel, R-Burke, said. “But in the event, really either way, whether they do or they don’t, the Board of Elections will not simply have time before Feb. 24, to do what they need to do.”

If needed, a primary election runoff would be held July 26 under the measure, except for federal election races, which the Legislature pushed to Aug. 17. The filing date for the elections would be moved to March 24.

The measure also would reschedule municipal elections that were delayed in 2021. More than 30 municipalities across North Carolina had to delay elections in 2021 so they could redraw maps.

“This will alleviate many of the concerns you’ve all been hearing from your municipalities because, currently, the municipalities that have to have a primary and a runoff, there’s not one scheduled, and this will fix that problem,” Daniel said.

The Senate approved the extension with a 26-17 vote. It was approved by the House, 69-50. Gov. Roy Cooper would have to approve the bill in order for it to become law. It would be the second delay of the primaries because of the case.

Plaintiffs argued Republican map drawers constructed the maps behind closed doors. The court case revealed key Republicans destroyed a map that was to remain part of public record according to law. The court in December postponed the primaries from March 8 to May 17 so the case could be reviewed.

Wake County Circuit Court judges dismissed the case on Jan. 11 and ruled the maps were not gerrymandered. The plaintiffs then sought the Supreme Court’s input on the case, stalling the district maps again.

Sen. Natasha Marcus, D-Mecklenburg, said Wednesday the Legislature moved too quickly to change the schedule and should wait for the outcome of the case.

“It seems to me that this bill is coming a little too soon,” Marcus said. “Because isn’t it true that if the Supreme Court were to uphold the current maps, we wouldn’t need to move any dates?”

Republicans said if the court strikes down the maps, it also will mean the General Assembly would have only a short amount of time to construct new maps and candidates would have days to figure out whether they still wanted to run in the new districts.

The Legislature must reconstruct district maps every 10 years, corresponding with the release of U.S. census data. The 2020 census showed the state’s population grew by more than 888,000 residents. Lawmakers had to add a congressional district because of the population growth. The Legislature started the redistricting process in August.

This article was originally posted on General Assembly votes to delay North Carolina primary election