Crowded is an understatement. Twenty-six candidates from four political parties lined up to seek the vacant 3rd U.S. Congressional District seat in a July 9 special election.

The State Board of Elections said it is the largest complement of congressional candidates in memory. It comprises 17 Republicans, six Democrats, two Libertarians, and one Constitution Party member.

Gov. Roy Cooper set the date for the special election after the passing of U.S. Rep. Walter Jones Jr. The Republican congressman was re-elected to his 13th term Nov. 6, but died in February.

Among notables vying for the seat are Republican state Reps. Greg Murphy, R-Pitt, Phillip Shepard, R-Onslow, and Michael Speciale, R-Craven; Lenoir County Commissioner Eric Rouse; Currituck County Commissioners Paul Beaumont and Mike Payment; former N.C. GOP Vice President Michele Nix of Lenoir County; Francis De Luca, former Civitas Institute president; and Philip Law of Jacksonville, who unsuccessfully challenged Jones in 2016. Democrats include New Bern Mayor Dana Outlaw; Allen Thomas, former mayor of Greenville; and Ernest Reeves of Greenville, who unsuccessfully ran for the seat in 2016.

The primary will be held April 30. If no candidate receives 30 percent of the primary vote, a runoff election will be held July 9, with the general election pushed back to Sept. 10.

The elections board determined the order of candidates on primary and general election ballots 15 minutes after candidate filing ended Friday at 5 p.m.. The letter Z was pulled in a drawing of letters. Then a coin flip determined names would be listed in reverse alphabetical order starting with Z. Here’s how the candidates will appear on the ballot:

  • Democrats — Allen Thomas of Winterville; Ernest Reeves of Greenville; Dana Outlaw of New Bern; Isaiah Johnson of Jacksonville; Gregory Humphrey of Beulaville; and Richard Bew of Newport.
  • Republicans — Michael Speciale of New Bern; Phillip Shepard of Jacksonville; Eric Rouse of Kinston; Joan Perry of Kinston; Michael Payment of Grandy; Michele Nix of Kinston; Gregory Murphy of Greenville; Jeffrey Moore of Raleigh; Philip Law of Jacksonville; Francis De Luca of Cary; Donald Cox of Belhaven; Chimer Clark of Morehead City; Gary Ceres of Grenville; Celeste Cairns of Emerald Isle; Samuel Boyd of Wake Forest; Paul Beaumont of Shawboro; and Kevin Baiko of Moyock.
  • Constitution — Gregory Holt of New Bern.
  • Libertarians — Timothy Harris of New Bern, and Shannon Bray of Apex.

Candidate filing for the 9th U.S. Congressional District runs Monday through Friday. The elections board set the date for that special election for Sept. 10, with a primary on May 14.

Results of the Nov. 6 election weren’t certified as evidence arose of widespread absentee mail ballot fraud and other election irregularities. The Rev. Mark Harris, a Republican, unofficially led Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes. McCready and Libertarian Jeff Scott said they will run again in the new election. Harris bowed out after an elections board evidentiary hearing into the election crimes.

A drawing will be held at 5:15 p.m. March 15, to determine candidate order in the  9th District race. It will be streamed on Facebook Live on the State Board’s Facebook page,