By Terri Flagg – firstname.lastname@example.org
Gov. Pat McCrory has signed into law a court-ordered redistricting map and procedures for a special congressional primary set for June following a two-day special session of the General Assembly last week.
The new district map shifts Stokes County from District 6 to District 5, grouping it with neighboring counties and those in the northwest corner of the state.
The March 15 North Carolina primary will continue as planned, but the General Assembly has passed a bill that will move a stand-alone congressional primary to June 7.
“This bill also eliminated the possibility of a second primary, often referred to as a runoff, in 2016,” said Stokes County Board of Elections Director Jason Perry. “In the past, a candidate had to reach a certain vote threshold in the first primary to avoid the possibility of a runoff. For instance, in a single-office contest like sheriff, the top vote-getter had to get 40 percent plus one vote in order to prevent the runner-up from being able to request a runoff. This year, those candidates who win in March will advance to the November general election, no matter their margin of victory”.
Perry said the June congressional election will also not have the possibility of a second primary. He estimated the additional primary would cost the county between $16,000 to $20,000, but noted that that amount was already in the Board of Elections budget for this year.
A candidacy filing period for the June 7 primary will be open from March 16 to March 25.
Perry added that absentee mail-in voting is occurring right now, early-voting for the March 15 primary will begin on March 3.
“Any registered Stokes County voter can go to any of the thee one-stop early voting sites in the county,” he said. “But on Election Day itself, a voter has to go to their polling place, which is based on where they live in the county. The Danbury Board of Elections office and the King Library are early voting sites but are not Election Day polling places. While the Walnut Cove Fire Department is both an early voting site and a polling place, on Election Day only those who are registered in West Walnut Cove precinct will be going to the fire department.”
The U.S. Supreme Court has denied a request by state officials to reverse or stay the U.S. District Court decision which forced the redistricting, but state election officials are urging voters to vote “completely” in the March 15 primary, as the new district map still has to be submitted to a three-judge panel for final review.
“Every NC voter should be confident their voice will be heard in all primary contests. In each election, voters should mark their preference in all contests—including candidates for U.S. House appearing on ballots in March,” State Board of Elections Executive Director Kim Westbrook Strach stated. “Vote the whole ballot and let us worry about what will count.”
Stokes County’s congressional district assignment hangs in the balance, with Republican incumbents from both potential districts, U.S. Rep. Mark Walker from District 6 and U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx from District 5, up for re-election.
“The North Carolina General Assembly is in a difficult position working to develop the best solution possible to a very complex issue in a short period of time,” Foxx stated Friday. “I love the people of the Fifth District and it is an honor to represent them, regardless of which counties fall within the district boundaries.”
Walker issued a similar statement on Wednesday, noting that he would miss serving the residents of Stokes County if the redistricting plan stands.
Stokes County was brought in to District 6 as a result of the 2011 redistricting that was challenged in court.
Those congressional districts were challenged as racially motivated gerrymandering drawn to achieve partisan favor and violating the constitutions of the United States and North Carolina.
Though the N.C. Supreme Court upheld the districts as lawful, they were struck down in U.S. District Court on Feb. 5.
The federal three-judge panel ordered the state to have the new districts drawn by Feb. 19.
While the measures taken in the extra session are aimed at complying with the court order, the new districts still must be approved by the judicial officials that ordered them.
“They could shoot it down,” said State Rep. Sarah Stevens, R-90, of Mount Airy. “They could order us to go back to the drawing board or they could draw their own.”
While Republicans have not thought past the existing contingency plan, “the Democrats indicate they have alternative maps,” that have not been shared, Stevens said.
“They have not participated in the process except to say we’re wrong.”