A North Carolina House committee has approved a bill that would reschedule the state’s congressional primaries on June 7, and would eliminate runoffs in all primaries in the state this year.
The full House will consider the bill shortly.
The change is necessary because of a three-judge federal panel’s order Feb. 5 that the legislature redraw the 1st and 12th congressional districts, which the judges deemed to be racial gerrymanders. The legislature is meeting this week to fulfill the order, and its proposed new map alters every district in the state.
The elimination of all primary runoffs would means the top vote getter automatically would advance to the general election. That would apply not only in the congressional primaries but in the primaries for all other contests, to be held as scheduled March 15.
That could have implications for several races, including the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate and the Republican primary in the 2nd Congressional District — where a large field reduces the chance that any candidate could get the 40 percent usually needed to win without a runoff.
A provision in the legislation also appears designed to benefit legislators or other elected officials who want a risk-free run for one of the new congressional seats.
Candidates who win a March 15 primary can file to run for a congressional seat in the June 7 vote. If they win in both primaries, they must withdraw from one within a week after the June 7 results are certified.
That means, for example, a legislator who has already been renominated for a seat could run in a congressional primary, and continue to seek re-election as a legislator if they lose.
The provision could benefit any legislators who want to run in the new 12th District (Mecklenburg County) or the new 13th District (Greensboro to Statesville), where the current incumbent doesn’t live in the district.
Meanwhile, the Senate gave its approval Thursday to the proposed new congressional district boundaries along partisan lines, with a vote of 32-15. It sent the proposal to the House for consideration Friday.
That plan makes major shifts in the congressional map. The approved version is very similar to a map released Thursday, though it was changed slightly to ensure that Rep. Alma Adams, a Greensboro Democrat, and Rep. Mark Walker, a Summerfield Republican, do not live in the same district. The plan puts Adams, who is in her first term representing the 12th District, into a redrawn 13th District. Walker is in his first term in the 6th District.
The legislature is under a federal court order to approve the plan by Friday. A three-judge panel ordered it, ruling the current 1st and 12th Districts are racial gerrymanders.
The panel’s ruling on Feb. 5 set Thursday’s events in motion.
Republicans have asked the U.S. Supreme Court for a stay, and are adopting the new map as a contingency in case they don’t get one.
Democrats criticized the proposal, saying it is an illegal political gerrymander and violates the federal Voting Rights Act.
Republicans said the map split fewer counties and precincts than any redistricting plan in the last 30 years.
The federal three-judge panel decided race was a predominate factor in drawing the 1st and 12th Districts, said Sen. Floyd McKissick, a Durham Democrat. Republicans have gone too far in creating districts that does not consider race at all. The map “is not consistent with the Voting Rights Act,” McKissick said.
Sen. Jeff Jackson, a Charlotte Democrat, argued for non-partisan redistricting.
“This bill was produced by a flawed process,” he said.
Sen. Bob Rucho, a Mecklenburg County Republican and a redistricting chairman, said the judges were clear that racially polarized voting does not exist.
And Sen. Jerry Tillman, said partisan gerrymandering is the way of politics.
“It’s been done this way since we had constitutional government,” the Archdale Republican said in reply to Jackson. “Your predecessors wrote the book on it. It’s called, if you win, you draw the maps.”