Republicans in the General Assembly have contended nonpartisan elections mask important candidate information from the voting public. Many blamed last year’s loss of Republicans’ majority on the state Supreme Court to the absence of party labels by candidates’ names.
The GOP-led General Assembly passed legislation at the end of 2016 to require Supreme Court and Court of Appeals candidates to be identified by political affiliation on ballots, but the debate did not end there.
On Wednesday state Sen. Ronald Rabin, R-Harnett, introduced Senate Bill 94 to make all elections in the state partisan contests. On Tuesday, state Rep. Justin Burr, R-Stanly, introduced a less sweeping House Bill 100, restoring partisan elections to Superior and District courts.
Attempts to get comment from Rabin were unsuccessful. His bill would require all candidates for District and Superior courts to run for office under a party label. Partisan elections also would be required for county boards of education, city boards of education that are elected, and elected positions in cities, towns, incorporated villages, and special districts.
State Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, said he “absolutely” supports Burr’s legislation, which has been referred to the House Elections and Ethics Law Committee that Lewis chairs. He said he had not yet read Rabin’s bill.
“I’m not generally inclined to go as far as the city elections, but I think the countywide offices make sense to have them partisan,” Lewis said of Rabin’s measure.
Paul Meyer, executive director of the North Carolina League of Municipalities, representing 540 cities and towns, was averse to state intrusion into municipal elections.
Citing a link to the organization’s advocacy goals for 2017-18, Meyer said its goal for municipal elections “promotes the idea of local determination of municipal elections styles and processes — not state mandates which trump local decision making by councils or citizens.”
The North Carolina Association of County Commissioners, North Carolina School Boards Association, and North Carolina Bar Association did not respond to requests for comment.
Lewis scoffed at the notion an election could be made neutral simply by removing party labels.
“There is no such thing as nonpartisan. It doesn’t exist. People are who they are,” Lewis said. “The folks that embrace the nonpartisan concept are the ones that don’t think they can truly win if they display their partisan colors.”
Lewis said the prevailing feeling among House Republicans is that “knowing the political affiliation of a candidate is information that is important to the voter, and, I think, it is supported by a majority of the Republican caucus. I don’t know how the other side feels about it.”
Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue, D-Wake, opposed the Republican legislation that made Supreme Court and Court of Appeals races partisan. He did not respond to a request for comment on the Rabin and Burr bills.
Lewis contends partisan elections are a good government measure.
“I think the more information you have the better for the people, and certainly knowing what party someone is in is good information to have,” he said.