North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) dismissed concerns that a district with a majority of non-white voters may go unrepresented for an entire year, suggesting that delaying the special election until November would not hurt citizens because Congress gets nothing done in the fall anyway. Though Rep. Mel Watt (D) resigned his seat on the first day of the legislative year to become director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Governor Pat McCrory (R) announced last Monday that his replacement will not be elected until November 4.
The comments came on MSNBC’s The Daily Rundown on Wednesday. Host Chuck Todd grilled McCrory on why nearly 1 million citizens in North Carolina’s 12th Congressional District — which which includes a long swath of central North Carolina running from Charlotte to Greensboro and has a majority of voters who are minorities — will have no representative for more than 300 days. McCrory noted that under his state’s election law, he could only have sped up the elections by a couple of months at best:
TODD: I have to say, I’m sort of dumb founded that, you know, I know people have a low opinion of Congress, but to have… basically to disenfranchise nearly a million people, and not having representation in the U.S. House of Representatives, that’s — that is not a healthy thing. For a year. A whole calendar year, Governor.
McCRORY: Chuck, I’m sworn to uphold the constitutional laws of North Carolina, and I can’t change those laws between now and that election. And, again, I have to uphold the election laws, and I made a good decision — I think the only difference in any other option was about two months. and, Chuck, you know and I know that not much goes on in Washington between July and the election anyway, which is a sad commentary on Washington politics.
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While McCrory is quick to dismiss the importance of Congressional representation in that period, in September of 2012 alone, the U.S. House took 47 roll call votes on topics ranging from a continuing resolution to keep the government funded to federal mining regulations.
McCrory ordered a primary be held on May 6, 2014, the regularly scheduled date for North Carolina primary elections. If none of the candidates receives more than 40 percent of the vote, the second place candidate can request a runoff, which would be held on July 15 (the same day reserved for any regularly scheduled primary runoffs). This situation is quite possible, given that several candidates are reportedly seeking the Democratic nomination in this heavily Democratic district. The general election, again coinciding with the already scheduled state elections, will be held on November 4 — after all of the 2014 session is over, save for a possible lame-duck session.
But surprisingly, Gov. McCrory’s official writ of election did not include a provision for holding the general election in July if a runoff is not requested. Such a provision could potentially have vastly sped up the process. With the new Representative set to be elected on the same day in the normal general election, it is possible that the 12th District special election winner could serve for just for a lame-duck session — or never be sworn-in at all.
In McCrory’s announcement statement, he noted that holding three stand-alone special elections would likely cost the state “in excess of $1 million,” though holding just a special general election in September (and using the other two existing elections in May and July) would have seemingly meant spending just a third of McCrory’s $1 million-plus cost estimate.
Out of North Carolina’s 13 U.S. House districts, the 12th is one of just two with a majority of voters that are not white. Prior to Watt’s resignation, it was one of just two districts with Congressmen who are racial minorities and one of just four represented by Democrats. With this seat vacant, an already heavily gerrymandered state will be even less representative of its diverse population.
North Carolina NAACP State Conference President Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II blasted the year-long delay earlier this week. “The Governor’s decision is the latest case of undemocratic political bullying,” he said in a statement. “Taxation without representation is a form of tyranny. Surely there can be a fair formula worked out to ensure that all the people of the 12th District will have their voice heard in this historic session of Congress.”