News: CJ Exclusives

Bill restructuring elections board, allowing primary in 9th District do-over goes to governor

The N.C. Legislative Building in Raleigh. (CJ photo by Don Carrington)
The N.C. Legislative Building in Raleigh. (CJ photo by Don Carrington)

Once again lawmakers would require a primary if the state elections board calls for a new election in the 9th Congressional District after they scrapped the provision yesterday during a committee meeting.

Wednesday, the House and Senate approved House Bill 1029, a conference report which not only would restore the Bipartisan Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement to its 2016 makeup, but also would require a new filing period and a primary if the State Board of Elections ordered a re-do in the 9th District.

The House voted 82-17 and the Senate 34-3 to approve the conference report. The bill goes to the governor for his signature.

“I will tell you that the leadership of the General Assembly has negotiated in good faith with the governor and the governor with us in an attempt to craft the legislation that is before you,” Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett said during House debate on HB 1029.

During a 2016 lame-duck session, Republican lawmakers approved a bill merging the elections and ethics board into one bipartisan board and stripped the governor’s ability to appoint a majority. Cooper sued, arguing the changes violated his constitutional appointment powers. In a series of court cases, judges sided with the governor and ruled the board unconstitutional.

The General Assembly placed a constitutional amendment on this fall’s ballot to keep the merged board in place, but voters rejected it.

The Superior Court panel overseeing the legal challenge to the state board has delayed dissolving it, giving lawmakers time to come up with a legislative fix.

Legislators initially had until Dec. 12 to pass legislation, but the court agreed to extend the deadline to Dec. 28 because of the ongoing investigation into alleged absentee ballot irregularities in the 9th Congressional District.

If H.B. 1029 becomes law, then the boards will split once again and the governor would regain his majority appointment power. The bill also increases county elections boards from four members to five, restores lobbying oversight to the Secretary of State’s office, and adds restrictions on who can be appointed to elections boards.

“There is nothing in here that makes me want to jump up and demand that you vote no on this bill, but I do question why we are here in December doing this bill,” Rep. Darren Jackson, D-Wake, said. “I don’t think we need to be here.”

Jackson said the only part of the bill requiring immediate attention is the provision to mandate a primary if any new elections are deemed necessary.

The primary requirement comes as the investigation into alleged absentee ballot irregularities in the 9th Congressional District continues. Findings from the investigation could warrant a new election, but under current state law, a special congressional election ordered by the state elections board must feature the candidates who ran earlier. In this case, Republican Mark Harris — whose campaign is the subject of the state board investigation — would appear on the ballot for a new election, as would Democrat Dan McCready and Libertarian Jeff Scott.

However, lawmakers are now requiring a new primary if a new election is called for in the 9th Congressional District. If there is a new primary, then there would be a new filling period with all five political parties — Democratic, Republican, Libertarian, Green, and Constitution — able to participate.

Allowing time for candidate filing, ballot printing, absentee voting, primaries, and a general election, it’s likely the 9th District winner would not be seated until late spring or early summer.