Remember back in March when you voted for Clinton or Sanders, or Trump or Cruz or Kasich in the presidential primary? (Libertarians penciled in Gary Johnson to be their party’s nominee.) So we’re all set until the November election, right?
Well, not exactly. On June 7, another primary election is taking place in North Carolina, and it’s an important one. Congressional candidates from both parties will be on the ballot, and four individuals are vying for a seat on the North Carolina Supreme Court. The primary will narrow it down to two candidates in the nonpartisan Supreme Court election.
Now, some people no doubt are saying, “Hold on, I distinctly remember seeing the congressional races on the ballot back in March.” And that’s correct. But those votes were never counted. Yes, we circled in someone’s name, but it didn’t count. Ain’t democracy grand?
Right now, North Carolina is a swirling mess of legal challenges over potentially unconstitutional laws. No, I’m not talking about HB2 and SB2, two anti-LGBT laws being challenged in federal court. I’m referring to the slew of legal challenges to voting rights, election districts and retention elections working their way through the courts rights now.
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To recap, North Carolina’s congressional districts were struck down earlier this year by the federal courts. We now have new maps and a new primary scheduled for June 7. Even though those districts haven’t yet been approved by the courts, the primary is still moving ahead.
Also on the ballot June 7 is the N.C. Supreme Court seat. Earlier this month, the N.C. Supreme Court itself heard a legal challenge over the way justices (themselves) are elected. The N.C. GOP tried to pull a fast one last year and switch our state’s Supreme Court elections to “retention elections,” which is nothing more than an incumbent protection plan for the current 4-3 conservative majority on the court. The split ruling announced May 6 means the retention election scheme is dead, and the old system of electing judges in North Carolina will remain in place.
The General Assembly districts are also under review by the courts, and it’s possible we could see new districts during this election cycle as well. Confused? That’s part of the strategy to disempower and disengage voters. Much like with voter ID laws, when regular folks don’t understand the process, some percentage of them don’t participate. Why do people think it’s so hard to redeem rewards points from an airline company? The rules and regulations are right there in the fineprint, where no one will see it, just the way the Republican majority operates.
We’re a long way from November, and each week the insanity of this election cycle somehow ratchets up another notch, but the outlines of the fall are starting to come into focus. Democrats are desperate to gain a foothold of power in Raleigh this fall, and Gov. Pat McCrory’s mishandling of HB2 has given Roy Cooper a clear edge in the governor’s race.
The question is, if the GOP is headed toward a historic implosion with Donald J. Trump as its presidential nominee, how much ground will Democrats gain down-ballot? North Carolina’s congressional districts remain safe for Republicans incumbents, but the new maps are slightly more competitive. If a wave election materializes, some Democrats who were long-shot candidates when they filed may end up in Washington.
North Carolina Democrats are rightly focused on the governor’s race and breaking the GOP’s veto-proof majority in the state House, but outside of party insiders and attorneys, few understand the power of holding a majority on the state’s highest court.
On June 7, picking the strongest candidate for the Supreme Court race will help decide whether North Carolina Democrats and Roy Cooper have a lone seat at the negotiating table next year or finally have some real power in negotiations over the future of our state.
Aaron Sarver, a politics junkie, has had several roles for the Democratic Party in Western North Carolina. He lives in Asheville.