By Natalie Anderson
SALISBURY — While the new candidate filing period is still undetermined, courts have been ordered to rule on ongoing litigation by Jan. 11.
The original candidate filing period for the 2022 election began Dec. 6 and was scheduled to end on Dec. 17. But the North Carolina Supreme Court on Dec. 8 halted the filing period and pushed back the date of the primary election from March 8 to May 17. These changes are attributed to ongoing lawsuits alleging partisan gerrymandering with the newly adopted district boundaries.
In the order, the court said the action was ruled “in light of the great public interest in the subject matter of these cases, the importance of the issues to the constitutional jurisprudence of this state, and the need for urgency in reaching a final resolution on the merits at the earliest possible opportunity,” adding that the order remains until a final judgment is made, including any appeals.
The state Supreme Court’s decision to halt all candidate filing came after a state Court of Appeals panel initially blocked filing for legislative and congressional candidates during the first day of the initial filing period. It was reversed later that evening by the full Court of Appeals.
The N.C. Board of Elections said the new filing period dates have not been set. All candidates who filed before the court’s intervention “will be deemed to have filed for the same office,” according to the court order. During the new filing period, those who filed for elected office can also withdraw their candidacy.
Barring any additional order for changes from the state Board of Elections or the courts, absentee by mail voting will begin March 28, with the ability to request those ballots from the state Board of Elections website beginning Jan. 1. Early voting is scheduled to begin April 28.
Earlier this month, the Rowan County Board of Elections unanimously selected an early voting plan for the 2022 primary election that includes two Saturdays and one Sunday. It would have began Thursday, Feb. 17, and go through Saturday, March 5. Hours were scheduled for 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the two Saturdays and from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on one Sunday.
However, the state Board of Elections says county boards will need to adopt early one-stop voting plans specifically for the new May primary, even if they’re the same the county originally adopted. If kept the same, early voting in Rowan County would begin on April 28 and end May 14.
But Rowan County Board of Elections Executive Director Brenda McCubbins said information is limited and these dates are subject to change given the ongoing litigation.
“I believe we will know more about a decision from the state Supreme Court by Jan. 11,” McCubbins told the Post.
Jan. 11 marks the deadline the state Supreme Court set for three trial judges ruling on a pair of lawsuits, which were filed immediately after redistricting maps were approved by state lawmakers in November. The North Carolina League of Conservation Voters and math experts have filed one suit, while voters backed by an affiliate of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee filed the other.
It’s expected that the ruling in January will be appealed.
Both lawsuits allege partisan- and racial-based manipulation of district boundaries among the Republican-led General Assembly for state and federal races. The suits also challenge the lack of racial data used to create the maps. The groups who filed the suits want lawmakers to redraw the lines. Republicans have maintained that boundaries are lawful and created through a transparent, nonpartisan mapmaking process that included a number of town hall sessions across the state.
North Carolina is no stranger to scheduling changes in the election cycle. Courts ordered new maps in 2016 and 2019, with some primaries in 2016 delayed from March to June.
Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.