North Carolina’s political world is seemingly melting down right now over the special session called by the General Assembly.

They’re “undermining democracy.” They’re “suppressing voices.” They’re “rigging our elections and deceiving voters.”

The session certainly looks bad from the outside. But let’s calm down for a second and actually look at the two bills the Republican-majority legislature sent to the governor on Tuesday.

In a vacuum, both undeniably create better policy.

House Bill 3

The first bill is House Bill 3, which has to do with how constitutional amendments are presented to voters for approval.

[Longeaf story: 6 N.C. constitutional amendments you will vote on in 2018, ranked]

In a quirk of state law, the current policy is to let a panel of three elected officials write a short “caption” to appear in front of the language of the amendment on the ballot.

These captions are not necessary. Why have a politicized process to write them in the first place?

The bill simply wipes these captions off the ballot. Makes sense1.

[Longleaf story: Why N.C. constitutional amendment ballot captions are so important]

Thanks to the NCSBE for this.
Mockup from the NCSBE

Senate Bill 3

The second is Senate Bill 3, which changes the rules for how candidates for judge and justice align with a political party.

Here’s the background on that: For the first time this year, all judicial races are partisan. But to ease into the rule changes, the General Assembly first allowed judicial candidates to declare their affiliation as they filed — and then delayed partisan primary races until next year.

[Longleaf story: Everything you need to know about North Carolina’s judicial elections this year]

Seeing a loophole, a Democratic lawyer from Raleigh changed parties and filed for the tightly contested N.C. Supreme Court race as a Republican, hoping to siphon off votes.

[Longleaf story: Have N.C. Democrats finally learned hardball politics?]

This bill tweaks the rules so that you can’t change parties within 90 days before filing. This is the way things are done for every other type of election in North Carolina. On its face, this makes sense, too.

Should a candidate be able to change parties right before filing for office? Of course not.

Even Democratic Sen. Jay Chaudhuri says as much. And I’ve got to believe that Democrats would be cheering this move had a bunch of new members of their party crowded the ballot.

That said, Chris Anglin seems like a good person and it does feel problematic to change election rules after filing has begun. Is it legal? I don’t know. Probably not, but I’m not a lawyer. Undoubtedly, it will be up to the courts to sort out.

The Justice Building in downtown Raleigh, home of the N.C. Supreme Court. Photo by the North Carolina Judicial Branch via Facebook.

This seems to be a pattern for the General Assembly.

Time and again, the state legislature has used its veto-proof majority to quickly change laws when it works to their advantage.

It looks bad, for sure — and Republican leadership hasn’t done a very good job explaining things to the people of North Carolina.

But a lot of the time, these changes actually result in better policy.

Why do we need a partisan election board anyway? Why should the state superintendent of education be hamstrung?

While this might hurt Democrats in the short-term, it’s better for the state in the long term.

So let’s debate the constitutional amendments. Let’s debate the method of selecting judges.

But let’s not pretend that the General Assembly is burning down the state of North Carolina in this special session.

It’s the General Assembly’s job to make laws, and special sessions are useful in fixing ones with unintended consequences.


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