Wake County Commissioner Caroline Sullivan on Monday asked a federal judge to reopen the candidate filing period for three commissioners districts so she can run to keep her seat on the board.
Recent court rulings on Wake’s election maps left Sullivan unable to run in District 4, which she currently represents. The district covers south Raleigh, parts of Cary and Apex and unincorporated areas of southern Wake.
Sullivan had initially filed to run in a “super district” the General Assembly drew for the Board of Commissioners and Wake school board to use this year. The legislature created two super districts that each would have each covered half the county.
But a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled July 1 that the election maps are unconstitutional, saying they violated equal representation – or “one person, one vote” principles in the U.S. Constitution – and give unfair advantages to voters in suburban districts.
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In response, U.S. District Court Judge James C. Dever III ordered Wake to hold elections Nov. 8 using existing maps that were created in 2011. Voters will decide on all nine school board seats, but only three county board of commissioners seats that are up for election this year based on the existing maps.
The ruling left Sullivan with no race to run in, and she says the filing period for districts 4, 5 and 6 should be reopened because the initial filing period occurred under the unconstitutional maps.
Last week, the state and Wake County elections boards rejected Sullivan’s request. On Monday, Sullivan asked the federal court to open a new candidate filing period for the districts.
“I did not want to do this, but I had to,” Sullivan said Monday. “The decision not to re-open filing was unprecedented, unconstitutional and unfair.
“Just because the General Assembly initiated chaos in this election cycle through legislative overreach and passing unconstitutional laws, that does not mean that the courts should answer with an undemocratic remedy,” she added.
Josh Lawson, general counsel for the state elections board, on Friday wrote a letter to Sullivan saying the state board has no plans to reopen candidate filing but would follow the court’s orders.
“The agency does not agree, and there are no present plans to call a meeting on this matter,” Lawson wrote. “We understand Chief Judge Dever retains jurisdiction over the implementation of this order, and the State Board stands ready to carry out any directive issued by the Court.”
If the court grants Sullivan’s request, it could open the door for new candidates in each of the three races and leave voters with two formidable Democratic candidates in District 4. As it stands, two former commissioners, Democrat Erv Portman and Republican Kenn Gardner, are seeking Sullivan’s old seat.
Incumbent commissioner James West is running unopposed in District 5. Republican John Odom, a longtime Raleigh councilman, is running against Democrat Greg Ford in District 6. Longtime commissioner Betty Lou Ward isn’t seeking re-election in the district.
Unlike the school board districts, county commissioner districts 4, 5 and 6 cover the same geographic area under the 2011 maps and the unconstitutional maps. So there’s no urgency or legal responsibility for the Wake elections board to re-open candidate filing for the commissioner seats, Gary Sims, executive director of the Wake elections board, said earlier this month.
Sullivan, in her letter, acknowledged that re-opening the filing period would be inconvenient.
But in her letter to the state and county elections boards last week, she wrote, “Dispensing with constitutional rights of voters and candidates for the sake of convenience, however, is too high a price.”