A pair of bills filed in the General Assembly this week propose to open elections to more candidates by making it easier for those who are unaffiliated with a political party to run for office, or to register a new party.
The bills, by two Democrats and one Republican, have been sent to each chamber’s rules committees, where their fate is uncertain.
But legislators know that the number of unaffiliated voters in North Carolina is growing, and that various third parties across the political spectrum are gaining members. Recently, some lawmakers expressed concerns about a GOP-backed bill to merge the elections and ethics boards because the proposal would exclude unaffiliated office-holders from serving on certain state and county boards.
“I know neither party is going to be willing to support this legislation, but it will start the debate and the discussion about returning the election process back to the voters of North Carolina,” said Rep. Ken Goodman, a Democrat from Richmond County.
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Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Democrat from Greensboro, is also sponsoring the legislation.
House Bill 737 would create an open primary process for the state, in which unaffiliated candidates would not be required to collect enough voters’ signatures in order to run. The two candidates receiving the most votes would compete in the General Election.
“Right now, the decks are stacked, the politicians are picking their voters and the result is hyper-partisanship on both sides of the aisle,” Goodman said in a statement. “The fact that an independent must go and acquire a certain percentage of registered voters before they can get on the ballot seems like an unfair roadblock we are presenting them just because they are an unaffiliated voter.”
In seven of the state’s counties, the highest category of registered voters is unaffiliated, ahead of Democratic or Republican. Statewide, the unaffiliated are the third-largest voting bloc, with 2.06 million registered, just behind the 2.08 million registered Republicans.
Senate Bill 656, by Sen. Andrew Brock, a Republican who represents Davie, Iredell and Rowan counties, would allow a group of voters to be listed on a ballot as a new party if they submit at least 10,000 signatures, including at least 200 voters from each of three congressional districts. Currently, the law requires at least 2 percent of the total number of voters who cast ballots in the most recent general election for governor.
Unaffiliated candidates would have to collect at least 5,000 signatures of qualified voters, with at least 200 from three congressional districts to be listed as a candidate.
“It’s always been really tough for third parties,” Brock said Friday. “I’ve tried to work on it for a number of years.”
He said he was optimistic about the bill’s chances this session.