“What did the ‘Mean Old Republicans” (MOR) in the General Assembly do now?’ you might ask if you are on the other side of things that haven’t been going your way for the last eight years in North Carolina.
They overrode a veto by Governor Roy Cooper of SB 656: The Electoral Freedom Act of 2017.
The press and opponents are claiming SB 656 “ends democracy as we know it!’ because it eliminates primary elections in North Carolina for judges and district attorneys starting in 2018.
Quick: Name the last 10 candidates in your party for district or superior court judge in the district in which you live in North Carolina. Did having a primary for judge really matter to you?
What else is in Senate Bill 656? Does it really “end democracy as we know it”’ as critics claim?
North Carolina General Assembly Republicans have opened up the barn door to participatory democracy in congressional races in North Carolina. That is what they have done.
Section 2 of Senate Bill 656 clearly states the following requirements for a registered Unaffiliated (UNA) candidate in North Carolina to get on the general election ballot through collection of signatures on a petition for their candidacy for various elective offices:
- For statewide office, which includes Governor, U.S. Senator, Lt. Governor, Council of State offices, NC Supreme Court and Court of Appeals, a UNA candidate only has to collect signatures equal to 1.5 percent of the vote for Governor in the most recent election, or roughly 71,500, with 200 signatures from each of at least 3 congressional districts.
- For district races such as US Congress and district attorney races, UNA candidates must collect signatures equal to 1.5 percent of the total number of registered voters in the district down from 4 percent previously. (with one major exception)
What does this mean in practical terms?
It means that highly-qualified people who don’t like the Republican or Democrat Party anymore and have taken the momentous step to re-register as UNA can get on the fall general election ballot for Congress 1) without blowing a ton of money in a bruising primary; 2) they can start their campaign on the last Friday in June preceding the general election instead of the year before and 3) they can win election to Congress in the fall with perhaps 37 percent of the vote in a three-way race instead of 50 percent +1 in a two-way race.
With no runoff.
There are roughly 520,000 registered voters in each congressional district in North Carolina. One and a half percent means a well-organized-and-funded UNA candidate would only need to get 7,800 signatures to get on the fall ballot instead of 20,800 under previous law.
In the election world, getting 7,800 signatures is peanuts. A candidate can get that many at a NASCAR race in one afternoon.
No money would be wasted in a primary they probably wouldn’t win anyway since UNAs tend to be more moderate on issues than are motivated, often single-issue primary voters.
Lowering the general election victory threshold to 37 percent from 50 percent +1 is a major incentive since UNAs represent 30.4 percent of all registered voters in NC today. A UNA would only need to pick up a few Democrat and Republican votes from each side to get to 37 percent in the fall election to win if Rs and Ds split the rest of the vote somewhat evenly.
UNAs typically represent what used to be known as the “center” of politics on the bell curve: more socially libertarian but fiscally conservative and responsible.
The exception? General Assembly races remain at the 4 percent of registered voters threshold for signature collection instead of dropping to 1.5 percent.
They ain’t dumb, that is for sure.