“When you’re faced with a ballot that has 18, 20 candidates for a judicial seat, people are going to tune out, and I think we’ll have even less voter engagement in these elections,” she said.
N.C. Rep. Darren Jackson, D-Wake, said the bill could have passed if it did not eliminate the primaries.
“I think it was designed to protect Republican incumbents," he said. "If there was an issue with primaries, we would make that the law in not just judicial races, but all races.”
Republicans argue the bill’s primary purpose is to ease access to the ballot for both unaffiliated candidates and voters.
Neal Inman, spokesperson for N.C. Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, said the previous system kept many third-party candidates off the ballot.
“Prior to this, under the previous party’s majority, we had some of the most restrictive ballot access laws in the country,” Inman said.
Inman also said Republicans only sought to eliminate this primary due to an ongoing review of the judicial system by the N.C. General Assembly.
“With filing in February, it just made sense to delay the filing and thus eliminate the primary,” Inman said.
Without a primary in this election cycle, candidates now need only 2 percent of the total number of registered voters in the district to appear on the November ballot.
In response to the governor’s attempted veto of the bill, Inman said the Republican bill is not an attempt to move towards a judicial appointment system.
“There’s nothing in the bill that’s about merit selection itself, so I don’t think that objection is necessarily relevant to this bill,” Inman said.
Rob Schofield, director of research at NC Policy Watch, said eliminating the primaries is part of a Republican plan to gain greater judicial influence.
“What they want is to be able to appoint the judges themselves — that’s what happens in a handful of other states, and it’s clear that’s what the Republican majority has in mind,” he said.
While he agreed with Republican claims that parts of the judicial system are antiquated, he criticized their approach to fixing the issues.
“The reality is that there’s lots of things that could be done to improve our court system," Schofield said. "There are some things that are out of date when it comes to how districts are drawn and how we elect judges, but you don’t change that by just summarily passing a constitutional amendment in a closed session."
With no February primary, any candidate in a judicial election that meets the candidacy requirements will appear on the November 2018 ballot.