Editorial: Another election with last-minute changes

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 9, 2021

Partisan interpretations will try to tell the public otherwise, but there’s no getting around the fact that the N.C. Supreme Court on Wednesday made things more confusing for voters and candidates.

In response to lawsuits over the drawing of district lines by the N.C. General Assembly, the court delayed all primary elections until May 17. Elections had been scheduled for March 8. Candidate filing also will stop immediately.

The court gave a deadline of Jan. 11 for a ruling in a pair of lawsuits, but the ruling almost certainly will be appealed. It’s now anyone’s guess when voters and candidates will have final district maps. After a decade of similar court rulings, the most recent one threatens to make last-minute election changes normal in North Carolina. And that only makes it more difficult for new or infrequent voters to figure out when to head to the polls and who will appear on their ballot.

In Rowan County, voters will be left wondering when they’ll finally have a chance to vote in the sheriff’s race. The first candidates jumped in shortly after the 2020 election, and an untold number of voters tried to cast ballots for sheriff in the 2021 election because of the prevalence of signs and campaign messages. By the time the primary election occurs, several sheriff campaigns will be more than a year old. Yard signs will be weathered enough that voters might ask whether they’re left over from an old election.

Among others, the delay will also affect the district attorney, judicial, clerk of court, register of deeds and county commissioners primaries. None will be affected by the court ruling because they are not subject to the legislative redistricting process. They could easily proceed regardless of a court ruling.

State Reps. Harry Warren and Julia Howard as well as Sen. Carl Ford will be on ballots in 2022, but voters will need to double check whether they live in the district one of the three hopes to represent.

For some, the confusion is a fine byproduct of creating fair maps.

Legislators shouldn’t choose their voters.

“Today’s order by the state Supreme Court restores faith in the rule of law and it is necessary for the Court to rule on the constitutionality of these unfair districts before the next election,” said Gov. Roy Cooper.

But there was no need to stop an election when disagreements could have been sorted out in advance. In a 50-50 state, Republicans drew maps that could allow them to pick up two congressional seats. Legislative leaders knew lawsuits threatened to delay elections as a result because the first challenge was filed before they finalized district maps.

North Carolina may be doomed to repeat the last decade of redistricting, with new lines seemingly every election, but voters would be much better served if frequent election disruptions became relics of the past.