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Special House election for Watt seat to overlap regular schedule

More Information

  • Watt becomes chief overseeing Fannie, Freddie
  • Continued services, but no vote

    Rep. Mel Watt’s resignation will leave his seat vacant until November. But not necessarily his office.

    According to a U.S. House spokeswoman, his staff will remain on the House payroll and continue to do constituent work under the supervision of the Clerk of the House.

    District offices in Charlotte and Greensboro also will remain open.

    One difference, of course, is that the constituents will have no vote in Congress. Jim Morrill



The special election in North Carolina’s 12th Congressional District will run concurrently with this year’s regular elections, leaving the seat empty for what appears to be a record length of time.

Gov. Pat McCrory made the announcement Monday hours after Democratic Rep. Mel Watt of Charlotte was sworn in as director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

Before a White House ceremony, Watt was sworn in at the agency by his Charlotte protégé and one-time campaign manager, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

The special election to fill his seat will involve the first special primary election in the state’s history – and create what might be the longest vacancy – according to legislative counsel Gerry Cohen.

With an expected July runoff and November general election, it means the district will be without representation for nearly a year.

The only other House vacancy is in Florida, where longtime GOP Rep. Bill Young died last October. Special primaries to select a successor are scheduled for Jan. 14. The general election is March 11.

Some candidates believe North Carolina’s vacancy will be too long.

“The constituents of the 12th District deserve a quick and fair election,” state Rep. Alma Adams, D-Greensboro, said in a statement. “Instead, they are being silenced. Over 600,000 constituents will not have a voice or a vote in Congress until after November, and that is a shame.”

State Sen. Malcolm Graham agrees.

“The voters deserve a fair and quick election,” the Charlotte Democrat said. “...We really shouldn’t have to wait nearly a full year to fill this seat.”

The special election will take place with the regular election schedule, starting with a May 6 primary. In announcing the schedule, McCrory cited efficiency, cost and the desire to minimize confusion for voters.

“It was determined the most efficient process would be to roll the special election into the already established primary and general election dates,” the governor’s office said in a news release. “Cost is another factor. A stand-alone primary, runoff primary and general election would cost taxpayers in excess of $1 million.”

Runoff likely

In Mecklenburg County alone, a special stand-alone election would cost more than $200,000, according to Elections Director Michael Dickerson.

The 12th District snakes through six counties from Charlotte to Greensboro. It is predominantly Democratic and predominantly African-American. Half the voters live in Mecklenburg. Watt, first elected in 1992, is the only congressman the district has ever had.

The special congressional election will be North Carolina’s first since 2004, when G.K. Butterfield won a contest to replace fellow Democrat Frank Ballance, who resigned shortly before being sentenced to prison on federal fraud charges.

But according to Cohen, there’s never been a special primary election in North Carolina.

Butterfield – like Democrat Sam Ervin in 1947, Republican Cass Ballenger in 1986 and Democrat Eva Clayton in 1992 – was chosen by party officials to run in a special election.

This year, voters – and candidates – will see parallel elections for Watt’s seat.

Because this year’s special election overlaps the regular election, candidates would have to file separately for each election, the special and the regular. The first primary for each would be May 6, with the regular election appearing on the ballot just above the special election.

Because a candidate needs 40 percent to avoid a runoff, and with six Democrats already running, a July 15 runoff seems all but assured.

Candidates

In addition to Adams and Graham, announced Democratic candidates include state Rep. Marcus Brandon of High Point and three other Charlotteans: school board counsel George Battle III, former Charlotte City Council member James Mitchell and attorney Curtis Osborne.

No Republican has announced.

“There’s a scenario where a non-Charlotte candidate could win, but if things turn out as expected, Charlotte-area candidates would have an advantage,” said John Dinan, a Wake Forest University political scientist.

Some candidates welcomed the governor’s decision.

“I want to thank the Governor for giving the voters of the 12th District a process that is familiar and fair,” Brandon said in a statement.

Battle said he’s “glad we finally have a date and we can now kick this campaign off in earnest.”

Osborne called the timing “a great thing.”

“It will give the voters ample opportunity to look at the different candidates,” he said. “It also will save taxpayers money.”

Morrill: 704-358-5059
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