NC lawmakers voted to delay the 2022 primary again. Gov. Cooper could veto the decision
A divided General Assembly agreed Wednesday to delay North Carolina's already postponed primaries by another three weeks, with Republicans citing uncertainty surrounding their new redistricting maps for the date change.
But with the legislation approved on party lines by the House and Senate, and Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper telling lawmakers they should leave delay decisions to the state Supreme Court, the odds that the delay becomes law appear long. GOP majorities in both chambers are not veto-proof.
The bill now heading to Cooper's desk would set the primary date for party nominations for U.S. Senate and House, the legislature and scores of judicial and local positions for June 7. Primary runoffs would be either July 26 or Aug. 16, with the latter date used should a second-place primary finisher for any federal post ask for a runoff.
Cooper has not stated directly whether he would veto the bill, but said early Wednesday that “I don’t think they should be moving the primary day.”
“We need to let the courts decide this and figure it out,” the Democratic governor told Spectrum News 1 in an interview. “The legislature does not need to butt in to the voting process.”
The primary date, as set in current law, would have been March 8, but the Supreme Court postponed the primary last month to May 17 so redistricting litigation could work its way through the legal system.
A panel of three trial judges last week refused to throw out the congressional and legislative maps drawn by GOP General Assembly leaders in November. That decision was appealed to the Supreme Court, where the justices set for oral arguments for Feb. 2.
Republicans proposing the change just two days ago said a further primary delay is needed to reduce confusion as the state await the court's decision on the maps.
Feb. 18 is the date in which the State Board of Elections says maps need to be finalized to allow for an orderly May 17 primary. But should the justices strike down districts as illegal partisan or racial gerrymanders, the law gives the legislature no less than two weeks “to remedy any defects” before the court could impose its own substitute plan.
“Confusion would occur if the Supreme Court rules on Feb. 17, and what’s the public going to do, what are candidates going to do?” asked Sen. Warren Daniel, a Burke County Republican shepherding the bill. “So this just ... takes that issue off the table and sets a reasonable schedule out in the future.”
Legislative Democrats, who strongly oppose the redistricting plans, say it’s best for the Supreme Court to decide on any schedule change — like it already did once — even if they uphold the maps. The candidate filing deadline also would be delayed to April 1.
“I’m just concerned that we’re pushing elections and filing and everything out even farther when maybe we don’t need to,” said Sen. Natasha Marcus, a Mecklenburg County Democrat, told Daniel. “We might be jumping the gun here.”
If Wednesday’s bill does not become law, a problem remains with elections for municipalities that are still governed by a 2021 law to hold runoff or general elections in late April. Wednesday’s measure would delay those elections to the broader statewide runoff date.
While Republicans say they remain confident in the legality of their maps, registered Democrats hold a 4-3 seat advantage on the Supreme Court. That heartens legislative Democrats, however, who sound confident district lines will be struck down and redrawn.
Litigation challenging the maps argued Republican legislators violated the state constitution by drawing lines that likely will result in the GOP winning 10 of the state’s 14 U.S. House seats and preserving state House and Senate majorities in almost any political environment. In contrast, statewide elections are usually closely divided.
The three-judge panel wrote Jan. 11 that while there was clear evidence of "intentional, pro-Republican partisan redistricting,” it was not the place of the judiciary to alter the political fairness of maps that the constitution says is left to the legislature to draw.
Nearly 30 House members absent for Wednesday's session voted instead by proxy, as was allowed for months during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Senate only allowed in-person voting.