On Monday, legislation to make all judicial races in the state partisan again became active, closing the loop that began with returning partisan labels to the state appellate courts in 2015. House Bill 100, passed by the legislature, vetoed by Gov. Roy Cooper, and then overridden by the legislature, went into effect on Monday, returning partisan labels to all superior and district court elections.
The labels were stripped from the Superior and District courts in 1996 and 2001, respectively.
The partisan labels were returned to State Supreme Court and State Court of Appeals races back in 2015.
Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the legislation to return the partisan labels to the races in March but was overridden by the legislature in a 74-44 vote in the House and a 32-15 vote in the Senate.
In vetoing the legislation Cooper said, “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. Therefore, I veto this bill.”
While the opposition to the bill believes that including partisan labels injects more partisan politics into the judiciary, supporters believe that including the labels gives the voter key information to make their decision.
Supporters also point to the removal of partisan labels, beginning in 1996 and being completed in 2002, contributed to the decline in the number of people voting in judicial races.
According to a release from the Civitas Institute, in the 2016 General Election 4,769,640 ballots were cast but only 3,961,352 votes cast in the North Carolina Supreme Court race.
Civitas said that sometimes party affiliation is the only information a voter has about a candidate and removing that label made it harder for people to find out more about their options in judicial races.
With partisan labels now returned to the entire judiciary it remains to be seen if voter turnout will increase in judicial elections or not.