A quirk of North Carolina’s election law may leave voters in the state’s 12th Congressional district without representation until 2015. Though Rep. Mel Watt (D) resigned his seat on the first day of the legislative year to become director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Governor Pat McCrory (R) announced Monday that his replacement will not be elected until November 4. The 12th District, which includes a long swath of central North Carolina running from Charlotte to Greensboro, has a majority of voters who are minorities. McCrory ordered a primary be held on May 6, 2014, the regularly scheduled date for North Carolina primary elections. If none of the candidates receives more than 40 percent of the vote, the second place candidate can request a runoff, which would be held on July 15 (the same day reserved for any regularly scheduled primary runoffs). This situation is quite possible, given that several candidates are reportedly seeking the Democratic nomination in this heavily Democratic district. The general election, again coinciding with the already scheduled state elections, will be held on November 4 — after all of the 2014 session is over, save for a possible lame-duck session. Oddly, the governor’s official writ of election did not include a provision for holding the general election in July if a runoff is not requested. Such a provision could potentially have vastly sped up the process. With the new Representative set to be elected on the same day in the normal general election, it is possible that the 12th District special election winner could serve for just for a lame-duck session — or never be sworn-in at all. McCrory’s office did not immediately respond to a ThinkProgress request for information about the writ.
McCrory’s announcement statement noted that holding three stand-alone special elections would likely cost the state “in excess of $1 million,” though he just signed a two-year budgetadding $1 million in new “tourism advertising” funding to the state’s eight-figure Travel, Tourism, & Sports Development spending.
Out of North Carolina’s 13 U.S. House districts, the 12th is one of just two with a majority of voters that are not white. Prior to Watt’s resignation, it was one of just two districts with Congressmen who are racial minorities and one of just four represented by Democrats. With this seat vacant, an already heavily gerrymandered state will be even less representative of its diverse population.
Bob Hall, executive director of the non-partisan Democracy North Carolina, told ThinkProgress that ten months was “too long a gap” in representation. “Something needs to change so you don’t have that large gap.”
While McCrory’s decision was also met with criticism from at least one of the candidates, it appears that he could only have shaved about two months off of that time, under state and federal law.