Guest Opinion: The Woodshed – Legislature to move primary election back to June 7

Published 7:51 pm Tuesday, January 18, 2022

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By Dallas Woodhouse, Carolina Journal

Legislative Republicans will vote this week to delay the 2022 primary elections until June 7. The move was first reported by Carolina Journal over the MLK holiday weekend.

Moving the primary date would ensure the General Assembly has time to redraw legislative and congressional district maps if ordered to do so by the Democrat-controlled state Supreme Court. Senate leaders point out the North Carolina law requires the General Assembly be given 14 days to redraw districts if ordered to do so by the court.

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All state and local primary elections are scheduled now for May 17, based on an order from the state’s highest court. The court had delayed the original March 8 primary date because of an ongoing legal dispute tied to election maps.

Legislators are concerned about a schedule adopted by the Supreme Court for addressing redistricting lawsuits. The court will hear arguments on redistricting on Feb. 2. That date could open the door for the court to draw its own maps to meet deadlines for the May 17 primary.

The May primary date prompted the N.C. State Board of Elections to ask courts to reopen candidate filing on Feb. 24. A three-judge panel endorsed that candidate filing schedule when issuing a ruling upholding the election maps.

The legislature will take up the matter in Raleigh on Wednesday, Jan. 19.

Moving the primary could help avoid a constitutional crisis. Such a crisis could be sparked if the court tries to impose new election maps without giving the General Assembly the opportunity to correct any flaws. The N.C. Supreme Court would be acting contrary to existing law should it attempt to redraw first.  Attempting to impose congressional districts on an unwilling legislature would be appealed in federal court.

Delaying the primary could further boost the U.S. Senate campaign of Democrat Cheri Beasley. Beasley, her party’s clear front-runner, would benefit from a competitive GOP primary continuing to eat up time and money. Democrats have largely coalesced around the former state Supreme Court chief justice. As reflected by the latest John Locke Foundation Civitas Poll of GOP primary voters, the Republican primary is developing into a close, expensive, and bitter contest.

Carolina Journal has opined that only a radical N.C. Supreme Court could find that the state Constitution prohibits “extreme partisan” redistricting, define what that means, and force a new and untested standard on an unwilling General Assembly in time for the 2022 elections.

Some legislators are pushing their leadership for an aggressive response should the court’s Democrats attempt to impose maps on the General Assembly and/or usurp the General Assembly’s enumerated mapmaking powers. Other than the power to impeach the justices, it is unclear what the General Assembly could do.