By Brian Irving
Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed SB 656 Electoral Freedom Act, the most significant ballot access reform bill in NC’s modern history. Once again, an establishment party has placed politics over principle. Democrats have always claimed to champion “voter rights.” Yet the governor vetoed a bill that would have given all voters the right to vote for more people for all officers because of one minor and temporary provision affecting 2018 judicial primaries.
In his veto message, the governor claims this is the “first step toward a constitutional amendment that would rig the system so that the legislature would pick everybody’s judges in every district instead of letting the people vote for the judges they want.”
This reasoning is curious because no such constitutional amendment bill exists. And even it did, a majority of North Carolina voters would have to approve it. So how would that be rigging the system? That is how a constitutional republic works.
The primary purpose of the bill is to expand voting rights. It will:
Lower the signatures a political party needs to get on the ballot from 2 percent of the vote for governor (more than 94,000 signatures) to 0.25 percent (between 11,000 and 12,000 signatures).
Allow a political party to gain ballot access status if it had a presidential candidate on the ballot in 35 states in the previous election. The Green Party, and probably the Constitution Party, should be able to qualify under this rule.
Lower the signatures an unaffiliated statewide candidate needs from 2 percent to 1.5 percent (about 71,545). The same reduction also applies to candidates for districts other than the General Assembly. The statewide reduction is not significant, and will probably generate a legal challenge. Federal courts have ruled that states cannot have a higher barrier for independent candidates than for political parties.
Sadly, SB 656 has become entangled in the partisan bickering over redistricting. Compounding this confusion, NC’s major media coverage has misrepresented or ignored the impact of this bill. The media has focused on the partisan squabbling over a judicial primary.
The original version of the bill, introduced by former Republican Sen. Andrew Brock, passed the state Senate unanimously in April. A slightly revised version passed the House in June in a bipartisan vote. In fact, only seven Republican opposed it.
The bill went to a conference committee to reconcile differences. It appeared to be headed for passage. When it got to the Senate floor this week, however, Republicans attached a provision to cancel the 2018 judicial primaries to the bill. This drew Democratic opposition and no Democrats voted for the final version of the bill when it passed both houses.
If you’re interested, you can read the Republican argument for including the judicial primary provision in this bill here.
Call to Action
But there is still hope. An override vote may be taken Tuesday. But the override vote in the House may be close. The House vote on SB 656 was 70-44. The Senate vote was also close, 30-20.
Veto overrides require a three-fifths vote of all those “present and voting.” If all legislators are present, that means 72 representatives and 30 Senators must vote yes.
So we need to take action to flip a few Republicans and Democrats to vote for the override, especially in the House.
Here’s what we need you to do:
If your legislator is Republican yes vote, thank them for their vote and urge them to override the veto. If he is one of the two Republicans who voted against the bill (Reps. John Blust and Larry Pittman), urge him to consider voting to override the veto in the interests of free and open elections.
If your legislator is a Democrat who voted no, use these talking points to urge him or her to vote for SB 656 because it is, essentially, and voting rights bill.
North Carolina election laws have long imposed excessive and unreasonable requirements on new political parties and unaffiliated candidates far and above the standard in most states.
SB 656 will dramatically lower the barriers for new political parties and independent candidates to get on the ballot, thus giving North Carolinians more freedom of choice on election day.
SB 656 will align our state election laws with the majority of states.
Both Democrats and Republicans voted for the original version of this bill, which was supported by the Libertarian, Green and Constitution Parties, as well as groups from across the political spectrum. These included Democracy NC and the John Locke Foundation.
The Democratic Party historically has championed voting rights; SB 656 is essentially a voting rights bill.
The judicial primary provision is only a minor part of the bill. And it only affects one election in one year. The most significant and far-reaching impact of SB 656 will be to give all North Carolina voters more choices in more elections.
As always, be calm and courteous. You may not be able to persuade them, but you can present our arguments. Regardless of whether you think they will vote our way, thank them for the time.
If you legislator asks for additional information, please email ([email protected]) or call (919.538.4548) me with their name.
Irving is former chair of the Libertarian Party of North Carolina