North Carolina Republicans' Scheme to Change Election Rules in Their Favor Blows Up in Their Faces — Again

GOP lawmakers in the North Carolina legislature keep passing new laws modifying how judicial elections work. It is not going well for them.

North Carolina Judicial Branch website

Ever since liberals won a majority on the North Carolina Supreme Court in 2016, a truly insane battle has been raging in the state for the judiciary and the electoral process. Republican lawmakers keep changing and re-changing judicial election law to try to prevent another left-of-center justice from being elected.

But so far, their efforts have not gone the way they planned. And this week, they suffered another blow as one candidate's lawsuit threw their plans into disarray yet again.

This year, conservative Justice Barbara Jackson is running for re-election, and the GOP supermajority in the North Carolina General Assembly did everything they could to stack the deck in her favor. Overriding the veto of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, Republicans passed a law making judicial elections partisan, out of the belief voters get confused into voting for liberals by the lack of party labels. They then eliminated partisan primaries, forcing all candidates to run on the same ballot, believing multiple Democrats would run against Jackson and split the vote.

Instead, the exact opposite happened: at the last minute, Raleigh attorney Chris Anglin filed to run as a Republican. That left the race with two Republicans, Jackson and Anglin, running against a single Democrat, former Clinton Justice Department official and civil rights attorney Anita Earls.

Earls is the absolute last person Republicans want on the state Supreme Court. Not only is she running on a progressive platform of protecting civil rights and voting rights, she has also led lawsuits challenging the North Carolina GOP's partisan gerrymandering and voter suppression laws.

In fact, Republican legislators are so terrified of Earls that they also wrote legislation requiring anyone running for office this year whose last name begins with the letter "E" to appear last on the ballot.

Faced with the problem of Anglin — who they argue is a Democratic plant — North Carolina Republicans simply changed the rules again. In an impromptu special session, they hastily wrote and passed a law that retroactively stripped Anglin of his party affiliation on the ballot.

Anglin responded by suing in state court to restore his Republican affiliation. On Monday, a judge allowed his lawsuit to proceed, ordering a delay on November's ballots from being finalized until the matter is settled.

Furthermore, according to a letter to state officials made public on Wednesday, Anglin has said if he loses the case, he will drop out of the election altogether. So the end result is a no-win for Republicans: either Anglin will be on the ballot as a Republican and split the vote, or he will not be on the ballot at all, and Democrats will still be unified behind a single candidate.

The irony of all this is that, as Slate's Mark Joseph Stern has noted, "If Republicans hadn’t intervened, Jackson might have coasted to reelection on incumbency advantage alone." But all of their attempts to tip the electoral scales are blowing up in their face.

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Matthew Chapman is a video game designer, science fiction author, and political reporter from Austin, TX. Follow him on Twitter @fawfulfan.