Bill To Make Judicial Elections Partisan Advances In NC House

Feb 21, 2017

Credit WFAE

Since 2002 all judicial elections in North Carolina have been considered non-partisan races. Which means the candidates party affiliation does not appear on the ballot.

Over the last few months the General Assembly has been changing that. And Monday, a bill which would finalize the process was passed by a committee in the State House.

The rationale for keeping judicial races non-partisan is simple: because of what they do judges should be elected on their character and understanding of the law not a D or an R listed next to their name on the ballot.

But Republican Representative Justin Burr sees it differently. "Members in the late 1990s, early 2000s there were efforts made that moved to hide the political affiliation of judicial candidates from the voters of North Carolina."

Burr is a sponsor of House Bill 100, which would mandate that party affiliation be listed on the ballot for candidates for District and Superior Court judgeships. Burr says this will "provide the voters with at least a general idea of each judicial candidates judicial philosophy."

A similar argument was made in a December special session last year when the GOP dominated General Assembly voted to make North Carolina Supreme Court elections partisan again. That vote came after a Democrat defeated a Republican for a State Supreme Court seat. Democrats now have a 4-3 majority on the court.

House Bill 100 would require District and Superior Court candidates go through a party primary. Unaffiliated candidates would have to launch a petition drive to be added to the ballot.

Democrat Greir Martin sees nothing but problems in a system like that. "The one thing y'all's party and mine agree on is we don’t want activist judges," he told the committee,"So if the only information you're giving voters is party affiliation you are creating a system that will almost guarantee you more judicial activists."

A representative for the North Carolina Bar Association also spoke out against the measure.

But in the end, the bill was passed by committee along party lines.

It could be up for a vote in the North Carolina House as early as Wednesday.