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North Carolina Supreme Court Suspends Filing for All Offices and Moves 2022 Election to May

By Tim Gardner

The North Carolina Supreme Court has suspended filing for all election offices and moved the March 8 primary to May 17.

North Carolina’s 2022 primary election must be delayed as gerrymandering lawsuits continue that could lead to redrawn districts, the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled Wednesday. 

By virtue of the court order, candidates whose filing has already been accepted by the board “will be deemed to have filed for the same office” in the May primary, subject to their ability to withdraw in the new filing period once that period is established.  It’s also subject to any court rulings that would impact that candidate’s eligibility to run for office. 

The court order is considered a victory for Democrats and a loss for the Republican lawmakers who drew the maps. 

All primaries, not just the ones using disputed maps for United State House of Representatives (Congress) and the state House and Senate, are being delayed.

The delay is required “In light of the great public interest in the subject matter of these cases, the importance of the issues to the constitutional jurisprudence of this state, and the need for urgency,” the Supreme Court wrote in its ruling.

The court order did not indicate whether the Supreme Court justices took a formal vote or a general consensus of its members, and if so, what was the final vote count. But the court currently has a Democratic majority. The ruling overturns an order by the Republican-majority Court of Appeals, which had on Monday night ruled that the primaries could continue on as planned.

The maps in question would give the Republicans a considerable advantage in future elections, likely helping them win a majority of offices even if Democrats win a majority of the statewide vote, according to outside political analysis groups and committees. And they will be used in every election for the next decade — unless a court forces them to be redrawn, which Democrats support.

The primary election was previously held in May until it was moved to March a few years ago.

State Senate Republicans criticized the decision in a press release claiming that the ruling was “secret” and “unsigned” action by a “Democratic-majority high court.”

Republican Senator Ralph Hise of Mitchell County stated: “The court didn’t even articulate a legal or factual basis for suspending elections. The Democrats on the Supreme Court want districts that elect more Democrats, so they’re blocking every election in the state until they get their way.”

Hise co-chairs the State Senate Elections Committee.

But Democratic leaders believe the court ruling was a fair and correct one. “Halting candidate filing and delaying the primary election are important steps towards ensuring North Carolina voters have the freedom to elect their representatives,” N.C. Democratic Party Chair Bobbie Richardson said in a news release. 

The North Carolina League of Conservation Voters, which brought one of the cases and accuses lawmakers of partisan and racial gerrymandering, said the delayed primary will allow voters to be heard in court. “We will continue going to bat for voters so they will vote under fair maps for elections next year and beyond,” Carrie Clark, the group’s executive director, said in a statement.

Republican lawmakers argued in court filings Wednesday that it’s not enough just for the challengers to prove that the maps are slanted — they should also have to prove that they are intentionally slanted. 

Republicans could still prevail and keep their maps in place. But they were hoping to at least hold the 2022 elections under the new maps, and Wednesday’s court order makes that far less likely to happen. In the past, trials in these kinds of lawsuits have taken years to for courts to decide. 

However, now the Supreme Court is ordering a speedy timeline. The trial must be finished by no later than January 11, 2022. The court order also mandates a quick process for any appeals that might come after the trial. Then the court’s explicit invocation of “urgency,” could indicate the justices hope to have the case decided well before the May primaries, leaving enough time to redraw the maps if they are ruled to be unconstitutional.