Democrats are unhappy with N.C. Gov. Pat McCrorys decision to schedule a November special election to fill the congressional seat formerly held by Charlotte Democrat Mel Watt. McCrory announced this month that instead of letting voters choose a replacement for Watt sooner, the special 12th District election would track with the regular election schedule, culminating in a Nov. 4 general election for Watts former seat.
Democrats say McCrory is playing politics by leaving the 12th District, which stretches from Greensboro to Charlotte, without a vote in the U.S. House until November. McCrorys decision, however, is the least confusing and most responsible way to replace Watt, who was sworn in this month as director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency.
To understand why, grab your calendar and clear your head.
Lets say the goal is to get a replacement for Watt as soon as possible regardless of cost, as Democrats suggest. Federal law requires that ballots be available for overseas military personnel at least 45 days before each election, which in this case would be the primary, possible runoff and general election.
Allowing for a filing period, the soonest a primary for Watts seat could occur is March. A runoff, which is likely, could be scheduled for May 6 the same day as the scheduled primary for the seats two-year term. (Remember, a special election only fills Watts seat until Jan. 2015.) The general special election would be held in mid-July, which is also the date reserved for a runoff in the non-special election.
Confused yet? It might get worse for some at the polls. With this hypothetical approach, voters would be choosing a runoff winner between two special election candidates on the same day theyre picking among primary candidates for the regular election. Yes, McCrorys solution also calls for voters to vote twice for the same seat, but at least theyre voting on the same day for both primaries, runoffs and general elections.
So why not lessen confusion by scheduling a stand-alone special primary, runoff and general elections, as some Democrats recommend? That would require voters to head to the polls as many as six times to vote between now and November. Plus, it would cost taxpayers more than $1 million to hold and tally the separate votes, according to the state board of elections.
Thats a lot of money for little representation. Democrats, including Congressmen David Price and G.K. Butterfield, argue that McCrorys special election plan would leave District 12 without representation for more than 300 days. Thats disingenuous. At worst, the difference between McCrorys solution and the July date for the alternative approaches is about four months.
Whats lost in those four months? Not much. Although Watt has left office, his staff remains at work, so constituent services wont be affected by McCrorys special election plan. As for the lack of representation in a reliably Democratic district its highly unlikely that the U.S. House, which has a 16-vote Republican majority, will face a situation in which the missing 12th District vote would have been a deciding factor on an issue between July and November this year.
Thats not enough to justify the $1 million-plus cost of a quicker, stand-alone special election. McCrorys solution, while not ideal, is the best of bad choices.
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