Opinion: Parting Shot

PARODY: Radical overhaul proposed for Council of State races

Top vote-getters could choose their office under proposed House Bill 3.

In an attempt to prevent a repeat of the disruption and delays that ensued in this year’s governor’s race, General Assembly leaders plan to introduce a constitutional amendment that would allow Council of State candidates to choose, in order of their vote totals, which one of the 10 positions they prefer, Carolina Journal has learned.

The proposed constitutional amendment, to be introduced as House Bill 3, would let the top vote-getter choose his or her preferred position first, the second-highest vote-getter to then choose his or her preferred office second, and so on, a member of the General Assembly who wished to remain anonymous told CJ.

Under the plan, any political party with ballot status would hold primary campaigns to select the 10 nominees who would appear on the general election ballot, but those primary candidates would not run for a specific office. Meantime, anyone who wanted to run as an unaffiliated candidate could pay filing fees and circulate petitions to get on the ballot.

Voters would select up to 10 names, and the top 10 vote-getters statewide would win one of the seats on the Council of State: governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, treasurer, auditor, superintendent of public instruction, insurance commissioner, labor commissioner, agriculture commissioner, or secretary of state.

The candidate receiving the most votes would choose first, likely choosing governor, but being free to select any office should the responsibilities of the state’s chief executive be too daunting. Others would follow, choosing in order of their electoral totals, until all seats were filled.

“We didn’t want to force the top vote-getter to become governor unless he really wanted the job,” the anonymous lawmaker said. “It’s possible somebody might want a position that doesn’t require much work, like secretary of state, where basically all you do is register lobbyists and preside over the Electoral College. Commissioner of agriculture isn’t that bad, because you get to run the State Fair and eat all that food. If we can attract people who want to get in public service but not be expected to do very much, we might get a better class of candidate,” the lawmaker added.

It remains unclear how candidates would appear on the ballot, the lawmaker said. “One idea was to have all the candidates from each party appear together, but it’s not clear which party would get top billing. You could do it alphabetically, or list them at random. One of my colleagues thought we could give each candidate a number and draw numbered ping pong balls like they do with the lottery to decide how the ballot would be printed. There’s still a lot of stuff to work out,” the lawmaker said.

Even though many details remain unresolved, the lawmaker said the proposal was worth pursuing if it would prevent contested Council of State elections from dragging on well past election day. The lawmaker cited the 2004 election cycle in which Bill Fletcher, the Republican nominee for state superintendent, led Democrat June Atkinson on election night only to see her take a lead after absentee and provisional ballots were counted.

Fletcher challenged the results, and the outcome was not resolved until August 2005, when the General Assembly (then led by Democrats) selected Atkinson to head the Department of Public Instruction.

Gov. Pat McCrory’s lengthy challenge in his re-election bid against Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper, which ended earlier this week when the governor conceded, prodded the legislature to seek alternatives.

“We were worried that we might not inaugurate the governor on Jan. 7, as planned, and we had been getting angry phone calls every day from Junior League members who can’t reschedule hair and manicure appointments on short notice for the inaugural ball,” the lawmaker said. “It got pretty testy out there.”

Parting Shot is a parody loosely based on events in the news. A version of this story appeared in the December 2016 print edition of Carolina Journal.