A bill that would make elections for superior and district court judges in North Carolina partisan again has cleared the state house of representatives. Wednesday’s vote follows a trend to add partisanship back to judicial elections in North Carolina, meaning the party affiliation of a candidate would be listed on the ballot. Starting in 2002, all elections were non-partisan. Court of Appeals races became partisan last year, and Supreme Court races will be too in the future. Western Carolina University political analyst Chris Cooper says adding partisanship back to such elections will almost certainly increase voter turnout.
“If you have a non-partisan election, you don’t have this shorthand, or this psychological heuristic that we can use to say ‘hey this person is probably pro-choice or is pro-life, or believes in bigger government or smaller government", Cooper says. "We’ve got to either investigate the issue deeply, or we’ve got to vote just on gut. And folks are more likely to do the latter than the former.”
But the timing and intent of this bill are certainly of note says Cooper. Last year, a candidate aligned with Democrats but not so on the ballot won a state Supreme Court seat. That ran counter to results in other statewide elections which Republicans dominated in 2016. A month after the election, the Republican-controlled General Assembly okayed making Supreme Court elections partisan.
“An ostensibly Democratic candidate won in some very Republican districts. So I think (this new bill) is probably a move that is trying to level the playing field", Cooper believes. "You have Republicans in charge who would like to get the court more in their favor. So they’re thinking let’s make that change.”
One difference between December and now is a Democrat, Roy Cooper, is governor. If the measure reaches him and Cooper vetoes it, there is not enough support to override that veto based on Wednesday’s vote total. 65 representatives voted yes for the bill, seven shy of the 72 votes needed to override a veto.