Gov. Roy Cooper must set the date for a special election in North Carolina’s 3rd Congressional District after the death of longtime Rep. Walter Jones, who had represented Eastern North Carolina in the U.S. House since 1995.
Jones died Sunday on his 76th birthday.
He had been absent from Congress since September while battling an undisclosed illness. He suffered a broken hip earlier this year and entered hospice care last month.
Jones will lie in repose at St. Peter Catholic Church in Greenville from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 13. All are invited to pay their respects. The funeral, which is open to the public, will be held Feb. 14 at St. Peter at 1:30 p.m. A private family internment will follow.
Cooper called Monday for U.S. and North Carolina flags on state-owned buildings to be flown at half-staff.
Under North Carolina law, there will be a primary election for parties to choose their candidates. Candidates must win at least 30 percent of the vote to avoid a primary runoff. A special general election will follow.
Cooper has not yet set the dates for those elections, which must include at least 45 days for absentee voting, according to federal law under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act.
The governor’s office is consulting with other state agencies and plans to have an update soon on the election process, a spokesman for the governor said in an email to The News & Observer.
During his re-election campaign, Jones announced that he would not run for another term in Congress in 2020. At least one Republican candidate joined the 2020 race before Jones’ death: Onslow County businessman Phil Law, who ran against Jones in the 2018 GOP primary.
Jones ran unopposed in the general election. The district is considered a safe Republican seat.
The 3rd district includes part of Pitt County and all of 16 other counties stretching to the northeast corner of the state. Beaufort, Camden, Carteret, Chowan, Craven, Currituck, Dare, Greene, Hyde, Jones, Lenoir, Onslow, Pamlico, Pasquotank, Perquimans and Tyrell counties are covered by the district.
The Supreme Court will hear a challenge to North Carolina’s congressional districts in March, though it remains to be seen how any ruling throwing out the districts would affect a special election for the seat.
After Jones’ death, the House has 432 members (235 Democrats, 197 Republicans) and three vacancies. Two of the vacancies are North Carolina seats — Jones’ 3rd district and the 9th Congressional District, where the state board of elections has yet to certify the results of the 2018 contest including Republican Mark Harris, Democrat Dan McCready and Libertarian Jeff Scott.
The state board will meet Feb. 18 and 19 for a hearing on alleged election fraud involving mail-in absentee ballots in Bladen and Robeson counties, which are part of the 9th district. A vote on certifying the election results or calling for a new election are expected at the end of the hearing.
The other vacancy is in Pennsylvania, where Rep. Tom Marino resigned to pursue a private sector job in January, he said in a statement — just two months after winning re-election.