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Messy judicial elections are a lose-lose for voters

Chris Anglin
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Chris Anglin

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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Chris Anglin is trying to pull a fast one on North Carolina voters.

Anglin, a Raleigh attorney, is a candidate for the N.C. Supreme Court. Until June 7, he also was a registered Democrat. But when Anglin filed as a candidate at the last moment this month, he did so as a Republican. That means there will be two Republicans in the race on the November ballot — Anglin and incumbent Justice Barbara Jackson — a dynamic that could help the Democratic candidate, Anita Earls.

Republicans are crying foul and accusing Anglin of gaming the system. Anglin says he’s standing up “for the independence of the judiciary” — a reference not only to N.C. Republicans doing away last year with primaries in judicial elections, but years of what Anglin calls “assault” on the state and federal courts. To that end, Anglin coyly calls himself a “constitutional Republican.”

Problem is, many voters won’t understand that wink from Anglin, and many more won’t read or hear the back story of his candidacy. They’ll simply think he’s a Republican. Regardless of whether you agree with Anglin’s motivations, his maneuver is predicated on fooling voters. We think that’s wrong.

It’s also a mess that real Republicans invited.

Along with the law that eliminated judicial primary elections, N.C. Republicans changed election rules this year so that candidates could declare affiliation with a party right before filing for office (as Anglin did). Democrats have argued that both moves could confuse voters, lead to election shenanigans and result in candidates winning with only a small portion of the vote. In a federal suit filed late last year, the state Democratic Party also argued that without judicial primaries, the party would lose a way to let voters know its candidate of choice in elections.

N.C. Republicans say they merely want to open up the ballot to more candidates, but they’ve yet to explain what’s wrong with having primaries winnow down the general election choices for voters — or why it’s a good idea to eliminate primaries for judicial elections but not other elections. It’s possible that voter confusion is the goal, as it would allow Republicans to make a case that judges should be appointed by the legislature, something they considered but stopped short of doing this year.

After all, Republicans have been trying for years to make state and federal courts more conservative. They’ve changed this year’s appellate judicial races from non-partisan to partisan. They’ve redrawn the districts in which Superior and District court judges are elected. They adopted a proposal this year to ask voters to amend the state Constitution to allow legislative leaders to control what names the governor has to choose from when filling state court vacancies.

Why all the changes? In part, N.C. Republicans are tired of the courts slapping down their conservative laws that happen to be unconstitutional. So they want to game the courts by changing how the courts are filled. Now they’ve been outgamed by phantom Republican Chris Anglin, and once again North Carolina’s voters will lose.

The Charlotte Observer

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