It’s admirable if not ambitious that Governor Roy Cooper wants to have a special election for the General Assembly prior to its 2018 “short session.” The special election would come after the districts for the NC House and NC Senate are redrawn without using race or politics as a guide. Gov. Cooper’s push for a quick election is admirable — though many think he is grandstanding just as he accuses the Republicans of doing — if the districts are set with any sense of decorum, and it is ambitious if current election laws and schedules are kept intact.
Good luck, first, with redrawing the districts to please the Republicans which own the Jones Street legislature while satisfying the Democratic Governor who hopes at the very least his party can pick up enough seats to keep the GOP from having a veto-proof majority. The courts also have to be pleased.
Federal court challenges and jockeying in Raleigh, unfortunately, are being done without consideration of the 2.031 million “unaffiliated” registered voters, an issue about which I wrote in April. Gov. Cooper, Senator Richard Burr and President Donald Trump owe their North Carolina election success last year to unaffiliated voters who controlled the North Carolina political process last year. But when the celebrations ended, so did the desire to include unaffiliated voters in law-making and political procedures.
The law that merges the State Ethics Board with the State Board of Elections is a good example. Those two terms — Ethics and Elections — should not be mentioned in the same breath as a functioning part of choosing our leadership. The law combined those two boards and directed the Governor to appoint four board members equally between Democrats and Republicans. Previously, the Elections Board had three members, two from the ruling Governor’s party and one from the other.
Nowhere in the law does the unaffiliated registered voter get a seat. The Republicans didn’t suggest it in the legislation. The Governor hasn’t spoken up for it. Gov. Cooper vetoed the legislation, not so much because it is a bad idea to merge the two boards but as a protest of his power reduction by the General Assembly.
The law requires the evenly-split state board to appoint county boards along the same lines equally between the two parties. Gov. Cooper’s stamp of disapproval was overridden by the Republican-dominated General Assembly, so he challenged the law in court.
So has Michael Crowder, a lawyer from Carrboro whose lawsuit on the surface challenges the merger but more importantly the makeup of state and county members. Even with numbers to show the impact of the unaffiliated registrants, there are no unaffiliated voters on any of those boards and nothing in the law to rectify it.
Last April, I advocated the establishment of an Unaffiliated Party. While such an approach would be difficult at best, unaffiliated candidates would have a voice through the election process, and that’s where Gov. Cooper’s ambitious schedule meets resistance.
Unaffiliated candidates can appear on the general election ballot through petition of the Board of Elections. You do not have to be registered as unaffiliated to do so. You can be Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, or unaffiliated. It takes lots of signatures from registered voters who live in the district of the office. For the NC Senate and NC House, that’s 4 percent of the total registered voters in the districts.
The law governing unaffiliated petitioners say the number of registered voters in the district is as of the first day of the election year, and petitions must be submitted by the last Friday in June, six months after the number is determined and four-and-a-half months before the election. A special election may not allow this time requirement.
Our election methods and how elected officials conduct business are no doubt about political parties, with little regard for unaffiliated voters and candidates. Maybe all candidates, even those running in party primaries and for re-election, should be required to petition to be on the ballot.
Unaffiliated voters and the petition process should be considered when scheduling a special election. A short cycle gives advantage to the two political parties. Consider the English phrase extolling the virtue of patience: “Good things come to those who wait.” Though not desirable to Gov. Cooper, waiting until November 2018 may be the best option for everyone, not just the two major political parties.
Jim Pomeranz is a registered Democrat and a Cary writer.