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Delay this year’s local elections and NC’s 2022 primary, state official says

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Voters arrive to cast their ballots at the Mt. Pleasant Community Center near Bailey, N.C. on Thursday, October 22, 2020.

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North Carolina should delay its 2022 primary election by two months, North Carolina State Board of Elections Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell said Tuesday.

The recommendation comes less than two weeks after the U.S. Census Bureau said it will distribute the data states need to redraw legislative and congressional districts by the end of September — five months behind schedule — which has the potential to throw a wrench in elections happening this year and next.

Brinson Bell’s recommendations Tuesday confirm the delay could impact municipal and state elections here, even though North Carolina is not among the states with a deadline for completing redistricting.

The primary is now set for March 8, 2022. Brinson Bell recommended in a State Board of Elections meeting Tuesday to delay it to May 3. She also said all municipal elections in the state scheduled for 2021 should be pushed back to 2022, to “address redistricting,” “reduce voter confusion” and “reduce municipal expenses,” according to her presentation.

The Republican-controlled legislature would need to change state law to move the statewide primary. Members of the state’s board of elections, by contrast, are appointed by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.

“The 2022 primaries are more than a year away,” Lauren Horsch, a spokesperson for Senate leader Phil Berger, said in a statement. “Legislators are currently evaluating the impact of the delayed census on the 2021 elections. There are no plans to move the primaries.”

Around 45 municipalities that have district elections in 2021 have the ability to change their own election dates. Lawmakers would have to pass legislation changing the election dates for the remaining municipalities.

Bob Phillips, director of Common Cause NC, also called for the state legislature to delay the 2022 primary elections in light of the data delay.

“The new congressional and legislative districts drawn this year are intended to be in place for the next decade and will have a dramatic impact on whether voters have a real voice in our elections,” Phillips said in a news release Tuesday. “The people of North Carolina should not be shortchanged by a rushed redistricting process that undercuts the right of voters to choose their representatives.”

Berger’s senior policy counsel, Brent Woodcox, tweeted that Brinson Bell’s announcement was an “overreaction.”

“It’s February 23. The primary is still a full year away,” Woodcox said. “It’s exhausting having an elections board that is constantly in panic mode. Calm down. There’s a long time until the next election. There will be time to make necessary changes.”

Phillips, though, said the change would allow the public more time to weigh in on the maps and “for the decision-makers, the lawmakers, to draw the best maps, the most fair maps possible, and not feel rushed under the gun.”

For more North Carolina government and politics news, listen to the Under the Dome politics podcast from The News & Observer and the NC Insider. You can find it on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, Amazon Music, Megaphone or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Lucille Sherman is a state politics reporter for The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun. She is an award-winning reporter who previously worked as a national data and investigations reporter for Gannett. Using the secure, encrypted Signal app, you can reach Lucille at 405-471-7979.



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