North Carolina Democrats seek election, campaign changes after lawmaker switches to GOP

Published 7:41 am Sunday, June 11, 2023

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North Carolina state legislators who change party registrations midterm could be subject to an early election to keep the seat, according to a bill filed Tuesday by Senate Democrats in response to Rep. Tricia Cotham’s switch to the GOP two months ago.

The measure would be prospective and wouldn’t apply to Cotham, whose move gave Republicans a veto-proof majority in both General Assembly chambers. It likely won’t get traction in the GOP-controlled Legislature. Her altered allegiance helped Republicans pass new abortion restrictions when they were able to override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto on party-line votes.

Her change angered Democrats both in Raleigh and in her Mecklenburg County district where she won last fall by over 18 percentage points. Critics say those who voted for her are being robbed of representation. Speakers at a Tuesday news conference about the bill included Cotham’s constituents.

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The measure says that when an elected or appointed General Assembly member switches party registration with more than six months remaining on their term, the seat would be declared vacant. The special election to complete the two-year term would be held within 90 days. The bill also would force a party-switcher to refund recent campaign finance donations if requested by a donor.

“You can’t completely switch teams, put on the other jersey and start scoring goals for the opposite team and have no recourse whatsoever from voters,” Sen. Natasha Marcus, a Mecklenburg County Democrat and bill co-sponsor, told reporters. “So it’s time we made this change.”

Party switches are uncommon. Rep. Bill Brisson of Bladen County switched from the Democrats to the Republicans in 2017.

Another bill sponsor, Sen. Michael Garrett of Guilford County, said he didn’t expect the measure to advance anytime soon “because it’s a little too close to the incident in Mecklenburg County.” But he said the proposal is “good government. It is about restoring voters’ confidence.”

The bill doesn’t identify Cotham by name, but its preamble referred to details about Cotham’s race last November by identifying the exact number of votes cast in her election.