By Susan Myrick
The North Carolina House of Representatives approved House Bill 100, “An Act to Restore Partisan Judicial Elections for North Carolina Superior and District Courts,” on Feb. 22 by a vote of 65-51.
The Republican-led legislature has been restoring party labels to judicial races incrementally, just as the Democrats removed that key piece of information from ballots beginning in 1996. First, Superior Court judicial races were deemed “non-partisan;” then in 2001, District Court races; and finally in 2002 appellate court races.
Supporters of the legislation believe that party affiliation is a key piece of information that helps voters make informed decisions when voting for judges.
Rep. Justin Burr (R-Montgomery), a sponsor of the bill, said: “Providing party identification to inform voters of judges’ viewpoints is the most practical approach to ensure citizens have an active voice in the selection of their judiciary. Voters are competent and capable of making this choice and deserve all the information available to help them learn about candidates, identify them by their positions and cast their votes accordingly.”
Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Durham) offered an amendment to HB 100 that would make it easier for unaffiliated candidates to access the ballot in these judicial races. The amendment passed easily, 104–12.
All but one Democrat, Rep. Mickey Michaux (Durham), voted for the amendment. Conversely, all but one Democrat, William Brisson (Bladen), voted against the final bill.
Six Republicans voted against the legislation: Brenden Jones (Columbus); Nelson Dollar (Wake); John Faircloth (Guilford); John Fraley (Iredell); Chris Malone (Wake); Chuck McGrady (Buncombe).
Supporters of partisan judicial elections believe that removing the partisan labels from judicial races reduced the number of people who voted for judges in North Carolina. The most recent example of judicial election drop-off came in the November General Election, where 4,769,640 ballots were cast but only 3,961,352 votes were cast in the North Carolina Supreme Court race.
Party affiliation is sometimes the only information available to voters in an election. In the end, removing party affiliation information from judicial candidates on North Carolina ballots only made it more difficult for people to find the information they believed important in choosing a candidate.
The bill moved on to the state Senate for consideration.