Gov. Roy Cooper’s first veto is on its way to becoming his first override, as state House Republicans drew on their supermajority and a defecting Democrat to turn back the governor Wednesday.
The vetoed bill — restoring partisanship to judicial elections — goes to the Senate on Thursday. It passed the House 74-44, with the support of Rep. William Brisson, a conservative Democrat from Dublin. Democratic Rep. Jean Farmer-Butterfield and Republican Rep. Susan Martin of Wilson were absent. The House needed three-fifths of those present to override the veto.
The vote on House Bill 100 could be the first of many vetoes and override attempts as the Republican-controlled legislature faces a new Democratic governor. The previous Democrat in the office, Bev Perdue, vetoed 19 bills during her last two years in office, which overlapped with the GOP takeover of the General Assembly.
HB 100 would make candidates for District Court and Superior Court judge go through a party primary, and their political affiliations would be included on the general election ballot. Candidates who aren’t registered with a political party would have to gather enough voter signatures to put their names on the ballot.
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Superior Court elections were switched from partisan to nonpartisan in 1996, and District Court elections were changed in 2001.
Cooper vetoed the bill last week, saying judges should be elected based on experience and ability, not political party.
Rep. Justin Burr, a Republican from Albemarle, said on the House floor Wednesday that there were 800,000 fewer votes cast last year in North Carolina’s state Supreme Court race than for the presidential candidates. Of those, 500,000 voters skipped over the Supreme Court race and voted in the Court of Appeals election, in which candidates’ parties are included.
Burr said that in effect disenfranchised those voters.
“You’re talking about a substantial number of voters in this state who left those races blank,” Burr said.
In a post-election special session, the legislature made Supreme Court races partisan.
Democratic freshman Rep. Joe John of Raleigh, a former district, superior and appeals court judge, spoke against “tossing the judges throughout our state into the muck and mire of partisan political elections.”
“It is no exaggeration to characterize this issue as not just any issue or any vote but a vote upon the future of an independent judiciary in North Carolina. ... I entreat you not to rip the blindfolds of impartiality from Lady Justice,” John said.
Rep. John Blust, a Greensboro Republican, said the candidates’ party affiliations are already available online, and this change would simply put them on the ballot.
Rep. Amos Quick, a first-term Democrat from Greensboro, said it was time to stop acting partisan. “If we’re not careful we’re going to have Republican or Democratic dog-catchers,” he said.