Federal District Court Issues Preliminary Injunction Barring NC Legislature’s Elimination of Partisan Primaries for Electing State Appeals and State Supreme Court Judges

You can find the opinion here.

In light of the state apparently offering no reason at all for why it made this change as to appellate judges, the federal court’s decision makes a lot of sense. It might be a very different case if the state came forward with important reasons for the change. As it is, the system looks to create bedlam at the polling place:

Further, the character and magnitude of S.L. 214’s burden is more substantial for appellate judges than for local judges. These judges run statewide, and in 2018 these partisan races will lead the statewide ticket.10 The legislature has decided that judicial races should be partisan, but by giving candidates complete control over party designation, abolishing primaries of any kind, and failing to provide another mechanism for reducing the number of candidates on the general election ballot, the partisan political parties are restricted in their ability to support a particular candidate for these statewide offices and to disassociate at the general election stage from candidates who are not reflective of the parties’ goals in judicial elections. See Doc. 14-1 at ¶¶ 10-12.

This burden is not hypothetical. In 2014, when a vacancy on the court of appeals was decided without a primary, 19 candidates were on the general election ballot. Doc. 14-1 at ¶ 16. After the 2014 general election, the State Board of Elections issued a report on voter wait times, Doc. 14-6 at ¶ 3, which among other things indicated significant problems with voter confusion in the court of appeals race; in counties with certain kinds of voting machines, this confusion and the long ballots were contributing factors to delays. Id. at 8 (noting that the spoilage of ballots resulting from voter confusion over the court of appeals race as contributing to the need to change paper rolls more often, thus removing a voting machine from availability, and, later, noting the long ballot contributed to voter wait times). The winner in that race received only 23% of the vote, just as had happened in 2004 when there were eight candidates for a supreme court seat. Doc. 14-1 at ¶ 16.

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