Primary elections for trial court and appeals court seats in 2018 have been scrapped after Republicans on Tuesday overrode Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of a bill that foretells potentially more judicial changes ahead. The House voted to make state law a measure — approved two weeks ago then formally objected to by Cooper — that also would delay candidate filing for those judicial races from February to June. The Senate voted Monday night for the override. At least 60 percent of the legislators present in each chamber had to agree to overcome Cooper’s veto. The override marks the latest action by the GOP-controlled General Assembly to retool the judicial branch. Earlier this year, lawmakers passed bills making District Court and Superior Court races officially partisan elections again and reducing through attrition the number of Court of Appeals judges from 15 to 12. Cooper vetoed both of those bills, but they were also overturned.
The cancellation of judicial primaries next May and postponement of filing was inserted into a broader elections bill containing ideas that previously have received broad bipartisan support. Those provisions permanently make it easier for third-party and unaffiliated candidates to get on North Carolina ballots. They also lower the threshold that a leading candidate would need to meet in order to avoid a primary runoff from more than 40 percent of the votes cast to 30 percent. But the final and override votes broke largely along party lines with the late addition of the judicial changes.
Republicans controlling both chambers say the primary cancellation and filing delay will give them more time to consider redrawing judicial election boundaries for trial court seats statewide, and possibly fashion a constitutional amendment changing how judges are selected.