RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A ruling by federal judges on North Carolina’s congressional districts this month has turned the primary election on its head.
Now there are two primary dates — June 7 for the congressional elections and the previously scheduled March 15 for all other races.
Here’s a look at how the state got to this point, what the changes mean for voters and candidates and the chances for more election complications before November:
HOW DID WE GET HERE?
North Carolina held elections in 2012 and 2014 under congressional and legislative district maps the General Assembly drew in 2011.
All the while four lawsuits challenging the maps meandered their way through state and federal courts. All the litigation essentially alleged Republican mapmakers created more majority black districts than legally necessary by splitting counties and precincts. Republicans said the maps were fair and legal.
The state Supreme Court upheld both sets of maps twice. But a panel of federal judges on Feb. 5 threw out the 1st and 12th Congressional Districts, saying legislators weren’t justified in using race so much in drawing them. The judges told the General Assembly to come up with a new congressional map by last Friday and barred elections under the contested map.
The legislature complied. The U.S. Supreme Court refused the state’s request to use the 2011 map for the March 15 election while the state keeps appealing to defend the legality of the contested map.
WHY ARE THERE NOW TWO PRIMARY DATES?
There wasn’t enough time to hold a new congressional candidate filing period, print new ballots based on new boundaries and mail absentee ballots to people in time to keep the congressional primary on track for March 15.
The legislature passed a companion bill — signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory on Tuesday — that set June 7 as the new congressional primary date, with the candidate filing period March 16-25.
The March 15 primary election will otherwise go as planned, with races for president, governor, U.S. Senate, the legislature and county positions still in place. A $2 billion statewide bond referendum is also on the ballot.
Your votes may be even more valuable to candidates because the updated election schedule law eliminated all primary runoffs in 2016.
Usually, the top two vote-getters advance to a runoff if the first-place candidate fails to receive above 40 percent of the vote. Now the leading candidate will advance to the general election no matter what percentage received.
The change was designed to avoid voter confusion and overloading officials with potentially five elections over eight months. But it also means someone with potentially less than 30 percent in a four-person race, for example, could advance.
Combine no runoffs with another change permitting candidates in non-congressional races to run also for Congress on June 7 under the new boundaries and popular multi-candidate races could see a victor receive less than 20 percent.
WHERE TO VOTE AND HOW
Election-day and early voting sites haven’t been altered and the state’s new photo ID requirement to vote in person still begins March 3. People can still request mail-in absentee ballots for March 15.
Choices picked for congressional races on March primary ballots won’t be counted and will remain confidential. But the State Board of Elections advises voters to fill out their entire ballots. Some areas lack congressional primaries and officials don’t want confused voters to leave blank contests for the state House or U.S. Senate instead.
For the June 7 primary, the board is creating an Internet tool to help voters learn their congressional district under the new map.
FAR FROM OVER
The new congressional map still is getting scrutinized by the three-judge panel that struck down the two districts. They want legal briefs from the state and those who sued, with the last one due March 9.
It’s possible the judges could rule the new boundaries aren’t legal, either. If that happened, they could order the legislature to try again or draw their own boundaries. June 7 is far enough away that a further altered map, if drawn quickly, could be carried out on that date.
Meanwhile, a federal court trial beginning April 11 challenges more than two dozen General Assembly districts. The plaintiffs’ lawyers are using similar arguments to those in the congressional plan lawsuit.
A state court’s ruling striking down a new option to elect Supreme Court justices also could require a new candidate filing period for that post later this year.