RALEIGH – There is a certain level of pleasure in watching Roy Cooper’s vetoes getting overridden time and time again. A Republican legislative majority enforcing the people’s will over the whiny objections of a weak Democratic governor gives rise to a knee-jerk reaction of satisfaction. That being said, Republican voters know all too well that the powers that be on Jones Street, Republican though they may be, far too often pass legislation contrary to the principles held by conservative voters across the state.
Senate Bill 656 is cleverly titled the Electoral Freedom Act of 2017. Cooper vetoed it, of course, as reflexively as his last nine vetoes, no doubt, and the N.C. House members came back to Raleigh to remind him of his impotency once again. Cause for celebration? Not so fast.
Beneath the veneer of ‘electoral freedom’ in this legislation exists a cause for concern among freedom-minded, conservative voters.
Here is N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) on the issue:
“North Carolina is making it easier for candidates and parties to seek elected office, increasing ballot access to offer more options for voters. For unaffiliated candidates, the fastest growing segment of registered voters, we are relieving a major hurdle for their ability to participate in many statewide and local elections. The Electoral Freedom Act will make our election system more efficient, saving counties and candidates time and money by reducing the need for low-turnout runoffs in primaries.”
The legislation opens up ballot access by reducing the number of signatures required, and even lowers the bar for registering a new political party in the state. So far, so good.
It eliminates judicial primaries for races for the supreme court, all the way down to district courts, for the 2018 elections.
Finally, it lowers the threshold of a defined plurality in primary elections from 40 percent, to 30 percent. Wait, what?
In a primary election, a candidate who receives only 30 percent of the total vote will be declared the winner. That’s right – no need for a runoff election when two out of three ballots cast were against the “winner” of a 30 percent plurality. That is the “efficient” part Speaker Moore is referring to here.
It “efficiently” snuffs out the voice of voters, two-thirds of which may wish to boot the incumbent out of his or her seat.
Imagine a scenario where an established leading lawmaker whose voting record the base is less than thrilled with gets a threatening primary challenger. Now imagine a few backroom winks and nods and sudden increase in primary candidates that dilute anti-incumbent voters.
In this scenario, under this soon to be law, the incumbent merely needs to get to 30 percent to walk away with the nomination with out facing their most serious challenger in a runoff primary.
It further strengthens incumbency advantages while shafting voters that want a new voice in Raleigh and making a conservative challenge to Republicans who have forgotten their principles that much more arduous. It stinks.
The fact that the threshold for a plurality was only 40 percent is undesirable already, but a full quarter reduction in that threshold makes it clear how little some lawmakers think of primary challengers from the conservative wing of North Carolina voters.
Any candidate being nominated with out earning at least 50 percent of the votes should give one pause, no matter the party affiliation.
The N.C. Senate is expected to round out the veto override of this bill and it will then become law. It seems many on Jones Street are far more interested in protecting their prestige as an honorable in Raleigh than facing voters. Perhaps they’re banking on the cover provided by knee-jerk celebrations at the news of yet another Cooper defeat?