Last week we saw a perfect example of how the judicial branch of the government is empowered to keep the legislative branch in check when legislators overstep their bounds.
While we’ve had the opportunity to see that scenario play out far too many times since the GOP took control of the North Carolina General Assembly, this latest court decision holds direct implications for Surry County voters.
Earlier this year the Constitution and Green parties qualified as officially recognized political parties, allowing them to select candidates who will appear on the fall ballots under those respective party designations.
The General Assembly promptly passed a law which states anyone losing in a primary in the spring could not appear as a candidate under the banner of another party in the fall election.
The strategy behind such a vote is clear: The Republican Party doesn’t want someone who lost a spring GOP primary to show up as a Constitution, or Libertarian, candidate, siphoning away traditional GOP votes and hurting the Republican’s chosen candidate. (And to be fair, no one in the Democratic Party wants a primary loser showing up as a Green Party candidate and potentially splitting their votes).
The ethics and legality of such a move, however, are certainly questionable, and last week a federal judge agreed when he ruled in favor of the Constitution Party and blocked the new law.
Locally, this means Allen Poindexter will be free, as a Constitution Party candidate, to pursue the 90th District House of Representatives held by Republican Sarah Stevens.
This was the right decision by the court, overturning a petty, mean-spirited law aimed at limiting access to the electoral process by anyone other than die-hard GOP candidates and supporters.
This should not be construed as an endorsement of Poindexter, or opposition to Stevens. She has served Surry County well in her five terms in the House, and through diligent and hard work has become an effective legislator and put herself into positions of leadership in the legislative body.
The larger issue at stake with this law, and the court’s action to block the law, is that of access to the electoral process by the common person. An officially recognized party should be free to chose whomever it desires as a candidate — even if it’s someone who has lost a bid for nomination of another party, or even is it’s someone who still claims allegiance to another party. So long as the candidate meets basic legal requirements, such as district residency and the candidate is not a convicted felon, each party should be free to do as it pleases.
We’re under no illusions here, if someone from either of the new parties wins a statewide office this fall it would be a stunning achievement. If candidates from those parties win a single one of the hundreds of local elections occurring across the state this fall, it would be a surprise.
But that doesn’t negate the rights of the people wishing to run for those offices, nor the rights of the voters who should have true, open choices when visiting the ballot box.
Respecting voters and keeping the electoral process open to voters hasn’t been a concern for the party of Phil Berger, the Speaker of the House who has been successful in turning North Carolina into his private fiefdom.
At least in this case, however, federal courts stepped in and held Berger in check, and everyone — including the GOP — will be better off for it.