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A Look At The Debate Over When To Elect Watt's Replacement

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Governor Pat McCrory has scheduled the special primary election to replace 12th district Congressman Mel Watt for May 6th. That’s the same date as the primary for all races. And it means even a temporary replacement for Congressman Watt won’t be chosen until November. That has upset a lot of the governor’s critics. They accuse him of playing politics, because the majority minority district is a Democratic district. The leader of the state NAACP says the move denies people their constitutional right to representation. The governor says he’s doing what makes the most sense. WFAE’s Mark Rumsey talks to WFAE's Duncan McFadyen to sort it all out.

MR: OK, so what if Governor McCrory moved this up to the earliest possible timeline?

DM: Well Mark, it would still be August before we had a replacement. In order to comply with federal and state regulations about filing periods and absentee ballots, the earliest a primary could be is March 25th, a runoff would then be June 3rd, and that would push the final vote to late July at the earliest. Now, keep in mind, Congress is not in session for the entire month of August and the first week of September. McCrory says these special elections would cost over a million dollars all together, and when you include the already scheduled elections, the governor says that having 6 different election days between March and November would be confusing.

MR: OK, well, Congressmen David Price and G.K. Butterfield say just move up the final election date…

DM: The governor could do that, but he says the earliest it would be is September 16th, seven weeks before the November election. Now the governor doesn’t mention this, but I think we should point out that Congress is only scheduled to be in session for SEVEN days between September 16th and November 4th.

MR: So, as it stands now, voters won’t elect a replacement for Congressman Watt until November 4th. What happens to his constituents in the meantime who might need, say, help with getting a visa or with scheduling a tour in Washington D.C.?

DM: Same thing they would’ve done last month. Under federal law, Congressman Watt’s offices in Washington, Charlotte and Greensboro will stay open until voters can elect his replacement.

MR: So because the dates of the special election are the same as the regular election, will 12th district voters actually get two ballots?

DM: Not quite. The two races will be voted on separately, since whoever wins the general election technically won’t take office until January. But they will be on the same ballot.

6 people have filed, all Democrats, which is why we should expect a runoff election. But interestingly enough, Mark, we wouldn’t even be talking about this if Congressman Watt had resigned February 18th. That’s so close to the filing deadline for the regular election that the Democratic party would’ve been allowed  to appoint his temporary replacement.