Release From Senator Floyd B. McKissick, Jr.
The NC Senate passed a Conference Report known as the Electoral Freedom Act of 2017. This is a rather deceptive name for a bill which has eliminated the requirement for a Primary Election for any judges running for election in this state, regardless of whether they are running for seats on the NC Supreme Court, the NC Court of Appeals, for Superior Courts, or for District Court judgeships. Normally, candidates running for these judgeships would have filed a Notice of Candidacy in February, and they would have participated in Primary Elections held in May. As it presently stands, these candidates will not have to file a Notice of Candidacy until June 18th, 2018 and no later than 12pm on June 29th, 2018. There is also no requirement for a Primary Election. Typically when a Primary Election is held, the 2 highest vote-getters participate in the November General election. However, if no Primary Election is scheduled, then you can end up with perhaps a dozen candidates running in a judicial contest, and the candidate who wins could potentially receive only 10-15% of the vote which would be a rather startling outcome.
As it presently stands, it appears that the General Assembly will hold a Special Session in January to examine the possibility of adopting new judicial districts for our state for judges serving in our District and Superior Courts, as well as, for District Attorneys. At that time, it is also possible that a Constitutional Amendment could be proposed that could be placed on the ballot for voters to consider as early as the May 2018 primary, which could result in the adoption of a new judicial appointments/merit selection process. This new merit selection process could allow the Republican majority in the General Assembly to appoint judges in our state. The Constitutional Amendment can also create what is known as judicial retention elections, where a judge holding office would just be voted in or out of office, but the person would not be running against another candidate.
All of this can have profound ramifications which I would encourage each of you to closely follow as this process moves forward. It is essential that the public have confidence and trust in the integrity of our judges and in our judicial system. We should clearly avoid any process that politicizes judges serving on our courts. Please continue to track this process, I have been following it closely, and some of the changes that have been proposed give me great concern. There was absolutely no reason to cancel primaries for any candidate running for the NC Supreme Court or the NC Court of Appeals since those courts will not be impacted by the redrawing of judicial districts. However, they could be impacted if judicial retention elections are approved as a result of the passing of a Constitutional Amendment. This is probably why they have canceled those primaries as well.