Posted by Drew Penrose on October 17, 2017
Earlier this month, we reported on the uncertain fate of a ballot access reform bill in North Carolina. That bill has now passed, liberalizing ballot access law in North Carolina, but also carrying with it controversial elements related to judicial elections.
The bill began as a bipartisan effort to ease North Carolina's excessively harsh ballot access laws. However, it was amended to make other changes to election law, most notably the elimination of judicial primary elections in 2018, that drew opposition, mostly from members of the Democratic Party. As a result, North Carolina's Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, vetoed the bill. The legislature subsequently overrode the veto, making the new bill law.
The new law is good news for ballot access law. As Richard Winger of Ballot Access News put it, "As a result of the success of SB 656, there are now only four states without some means for a presidential candidate (running outside the two major parties) to get on the ballot with the support of 25,000 or fewer voters: California, Texas, Michigan, and Indiana."
As for the elimination of judicial primaries, we hope it will help spark a conversation about what we expect from our elections. The bill seems to be delaying the primary in anticipation of eliminating the judicial elections altogether, but under the current state of the law, it would simply elect judges in a single round election. Without a primary, judicial candidates could win with low pluralities. Historically, North Carolina did elect judges in single-round elections when filling vacancies, but it did so using ranked choice voting to promote majority rule. Perhaps the 2018 judicial elections will encourage North Carolina to consider returning to ranked choice voting.