Last week Gov. Roy Cooper issued his first veto, batting down a bill that would return partisan labels to Superior and District Court races in the state, and this week the legislature overrode the veto.
The House on Wednesday voted 74 to 44 to override Cooper’s veto with no Republicans voting against the override and only one Democrat voting for override. The Senate followed suit on Thursday in a 32 to 15 vote, with two Republicans voting against the override and no Democrats voting for the override.
The law will become effective starting with the primary election in 2018 and return partisan labels to all judicial elections. (Previous laws returned the labels to ballots in appellate courts elections.)
For the legislature to override Cooper’s veto requires a vote of three-fifths of the assembled legislators in the chamber at the time. With Republicans maintaining super-majorities in the House and Senate, they can override the governor’s vetoes without a single Democrat vote.
Republicans say that the change will increase voter turnout for those races. Advocates for the partisan labels note that the turnout for the state Supreme Court race this year was 450,000 votes below that of the Court of Appeals races, where party affiliations are already on the ballots.
“For years, Gov. Cooper and his allies have stoked fears of voter disenfranchisement, yet when he had the opportunity to actually increase voter involvement, he rejected a measure that the data suggests would do just that,” Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) said. “I’m pleased the General Assembly corrected the governor’s misstep and this bill is now law.”
NCGOP Chairwoman Robin Hayes released a statement following the vote: “Democrats removed party labels from the ballot because they were losing those elections. Voters should examine the records and positions of judicial candidates closely, but it’s clear that voters feel more empowered to cast ballots in judicial elections when they know how the candidates are registered. Removing this critical information from the ballot caused a dramatic drop in the percentage of votes cast, and denied information to voters that they clearly desired. For the health of our democracy, we need to right this wrong.”
Cooper released a statement with his veto saying, “North Carolina wants its judges to be fair and impartial, and partisan politics has no place on the judges’ bench. We need less politics in the courtroom, not more. Judges make tough decisions on child abuse, divorce, property disputes, drunk driving, domestic violence and other issues that should be free from politics. This bill reverses that progress. We should let the people elect judges based on their experience and ability to do the job, not which party they pick. I am also concerned that judges who have chosen to register as unaffiliated voters so as to avoid partisan politics now have a difficult path to getting on the ballot.”