On Wednesday, Republican state legislators voted to advance House Bill 605, which would further delay the 2022 primary elections — pushing the date back an additional three weeks to June 7.
The elections were originally scheduled for March 8 but were postponed to May 17 because of gerrymandering lawsuits.
Votes in both the House and the Senate were along party lines — all Democrats who were present voted to keep the current schedule, and nearly all of the Republicans voted to further postpone the primary.
Senate Majority Leader Kathy Harrington, R-Gaston, was not present and did not vote.
In a Jan. 17 press release announcing the bill, Senate Deputy President Pro Tempore Ralph Hise, R-Rutherford, said Senate Republicans wanted to further delay the primaries because legislators would not have adequate time to redraw districts following the state Supreme Court hearing next month.
The N.C. State Board of Elections said the new districts need to be finalized by the week of Feb. 14 in order for the primaries to take place on May 17 as planned. Hise said this is a short timeframe that would cause unnecessary confusion.
“State law requires the legislature to have at least 14 days to draw new districts if existing ones are struck down by a court,” Hise said in the press release. “But the redistricting case schedule adopted by the state Supreme Court provides as little as 12 days for the court to decide on a lengthy and complex redistricting case."
House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, also wrote a press release in support of the bill after it passed through the House Wednesday.
“While redistricting cases play out in court, it is imperative that North Carolina voters maintain confidence in our elections process,” Moore said. “House Bill 605 would eliminate the potential chaos of rushing a court decision and the process of redrawing maps if required by the court.”
But Sen. Wiley Nickel, D-Wake, said legislators could start the process now and have time to draw fair maps.
"If the Republicans want to actually do fair maps, they would have done it a long time ago," he said. "But we have plenty of time right now to draw fair maps starting today."
Nickel also said a June 7 primary date would make it difficult to attract participation from college students in the Triangle, as UNC, Duke and N.C. State typically hold their commencements before this date.
“You basically are pushing back the election, so that the only way for most students and faculty members who leave after graduation to vote is going to be by mail," he said. "So you won't have early voting, you won't have in-person voting. I think you know what Chapel Hill looks like in June compared to May.”
Megan Wagner, president of the UNC Young Democrats, said the organization supported the N.C. Supreme Court's decision to move the date back from March 8 to May 17 because of challenges to the district maps.
But Wagner said those decisions should be made by courts, not by legislators. She also said she is worried about how H.B. 605 could impact voter turnout among students.
“A lot of the narrative that’s going around is that young voters are apathetic to politics, and that's not the truth,” she said. “It's just that they don't have established patterns, and things like this that make it more difficult for them to vote are not going to help change the turnout. The students want to turn out.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated who was present and voted for House Bill 605. Senate Majority Leader Kathy Harrington, R-Gaston, was not present and did not vote. In addition, the article misrepresented a quote from Sen. Wiley Nickel, D-Wake. The article has been updated to reflect accurate information. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error.
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