CJ: Recent rules make it challenging for unaffiliated candidates to get on the ballot

A sample ballot for North Carolina's House District 50 is seen in a photo illustration as early voting for the 2016 general elections begins in the state, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, U.S. October 20, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

RALEIGH – Ballot access is the first hurdle to overcome for those political candidates that do not wish to run within the construct of our two major parties. In recent years, third party ballot access has expanded on both the Left and Right with the sanction of North Carolina’s very own Green Party as well as the Constitution Party of NC.

Yet, other changes with elections rules, namely the return to partisan judicial elections, may be making it harder for judicial candidates not affiliated with any party to gain access to the ballot all. That’s according to Brooke Conrad of Carolina Journal, where she explains that while partisan judicial races were the historical norm in our state, the re-implementation of them after years of Democrat-enacted non-partisan races has left many independent candidates in a lurch.

From the Carolina Journal:

Tiffany Lesnik, a lawyer in Wake County, arrived at the N.C. State Board of Elections on Dec. 4 to file her notice of candidacy. But an official told her she didn’t qualify.

Lesnik and other judicial candidates who are registered as unaffiliated voters have to submit a petition to the N.C. Board of Elections before they can file. That petition must include 2% of the registered voters in the candidate’s district. Candidates registered with a political party only pay a fee.

In 2016 and 2017, the state legislature voted to switch to partisan elections in all judicial races. Before those rule changes, voters couldn’t see party labels next to judicial candidates’ names on the ballots, and unaffiliated voters weren’t required to file petitions.

The new law means Lesnik must collect 1,918 signatures by March 3, the state primary date. She has gathered several hundred and hopes to reach the qualifying number by Valentine’s Day. She’s reached out to several individuals, organizations, and businesses, asking for a commitment to gather anywhere from five to 100 signatures.

“I knew immediately that I would not be able to collect all the signatures myself,” she told Carolina Journal. “Hopefully, we’ll have a huge influx of signatures in the next few weeks.”

Nonpartisan judicial elections are the exception to the norm in North Carolina history. After years of partisan races, Democrats who ran the General Assembly in the 1990s moved to drop party labels from judicial elections.

Advocates argued the change made sense because judges shouldn’t be viewed as partisan political actors. But Republican critics suspected the real reason behind the change was the growing number of GOP judicial election wins, says Mitch Kokai, senior political analyst at the John Locke Foundation. When Republicans began gaining steam near the end of the century, and party labels no longer played as well to Democrats’ advantage, the state switched to a nonpartisan system for Superior Court elections in 1996 and for District Court elections in 2001. [CONTINUE READING]

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