Ruling clouds primaries

Published 6:33 pm Thursday, February 11, 2016

As if there wasn’t enough concern with the upcoming March 15 primaries in North Carolina, what with the voter ID requirements, a three-judge panel added fuel to that fire late last week with a ruling that could influence the election process.

A week ago, a federal three-judge panel ruled the 1st and 12th districts unconstitutional and ordered the North Carolina General Assembly to draw new congressional districts by Feb. 19. The judges said Republican state lawmakers relied too heavily on race in drawing them in 2011. Part of Beaufort County is in the 1st Congressional District, represented by G.K. Butterfield, a Democrat.

On Monday, attorneys for the state of North Carolina filed an emergency request for the ruling to be stayed (delayed) in light of the impending primaries.

That ruling resulted in candidates and voters asking questions of elections officials at the state and local levels.

“We had a few from candidates, and a few from voters, just asking how that will impact the March election,” said Kellie Harris Hopkins, director of the Beaufort County Board of Elections, in an interview this week. “We’ve told them to continue on like nothing’s happened. We really need to wait on what the court says about the stay before we can give anybody any definitive answers.”

On Monday, the North Carolina State Board of Elections provided instructions to the local boards of elections in the state. Those instructions told the boards to not change their existing plans to conduct the March primaries.

“The scope of any redistricting effort is not yet known, so we are encouraging voters to vote their full ballot and let us worry about whether that race is ultimately certified,” according to those instructions.

Some North Carolina voters may find the earlier primaries (which used to be held in May), the voter ID requirements and the court’s ruling overwhelming, confusing and difficult to deal with in the coming days. Some voters may decide to avoid the situation by not going to the polls and marking ballots. That would be unfortunate.

Anything that impedes, hampers or discourages voters from exercising their right to vote should be avoided if at all possible.

There will be debate over the court’s reasoning for its ruling. Let that debate happen. The worrisome aspect of the court’s ruling is its timing.

“The state’s emergency request said the legislature isn’t currently in session and more than 8,600 absentee ballot requests for elections based on the current boundaries had come in by mail as of early Monday, and more than 400 have already been accepted, according to State Board of Elections data,” reads an Associated Press report.

“Attorneys for voters who sued to strike down two of North Carolina’s congressional districts want a federal court to keep demanding new boundaries by the end of next week,” reads another AP report.

Whatever the outcome — not everyone will be happy with it — voters deserve a quick resolution to the situation. Voters must be encouraged, not discouraged, from marking ballots.