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North Carolina governor decides to leave House seat vacant for nearly a year

Governor Pat McCrory says holding a special election for vacant 12th District seat would be too costly and inefficient

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

north-carolina mugRALEIGH (CFP) — Democratic leaders and the NAACP in North Carolina are crying foul after Republican Governor Pat McCrory announced that no separate election will be held to fill the 12th District seat of former U.S. Rep. Mel Watt, who resigned January 13.

North Carolnia Governor Pat McCrory

N.C. Governor Pat McCrory

Instead of separate election, voters in the majority-minority district will pick Watt’s replacement at the same time they decide on their next congressman during the normal 2014 election cycle.

As a result, the strongly Democratic district will have no representation until at least November, leaving the seat vacant for more than 300 days.

State NAACP President William Barber blasted McCrory’s decision, calling it “undemocratic political bullying.”

“Taxation without representation is a form of tyranny,” Barber said in a statement. “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.”

Two Democratic members of the state’s House delegation, U.S. Reps. David Price and G.K. Butterfield, also called on McCrory to reconsider, saying the decision not to call a special election is “unprecedented in recent congressional history.”

“The assumption that North Carolina is better served by having one less advocate in the House for nearly a full year than by finding a cost-effective way to minimize the vacancy is seriously misguided,” the congressmen said in a letter to the governor.

“The fact that your decision requires so many of our state’s citizen’s to forgo their constitutionally guaranteed right of representation for twice as long as common practice is indefensible.”

The U.S. Constitution mandates that any vacancies in the House be filled by special election, unlike the Senate, where governors can make replacements until the next general election.

Article One, Section Two reads: “When vacancies happen in the Representation from any State, the Executive Authority thereof shall issue Writs of Election to fill such Vacancies.”

McCrory is actually calling a special election to fill the vacancy,  but it will be held simultaneously with the primary and general election that would normally be held.

Under McCrory’s timeline, primaries for both the vacant seat and the general election will be held  on May 6, with runoffs, if needed, on July 15. On November 4, voters in the district will decide both who will replace Watt immediately and who will take the seat when Congress convenes next January.

Presumably, different candidates could run in those separate elections, although that would seem unlikely.

Price and Butterfield noted that six vacancies during the current session of Congress have been filled by special election within an average of 126 days. After the late U.S. Rep. C.W. “Bill” Young of Florida died in October, it took only 145 days until the state held a primary election to pick his replacement on January 14.

But McCrory said that having a separate election to fill the seat sooner would cost the state more than $1 million.

“Because of the various filing deadlines, ballot preparation time, state and federal calendar requirements for ballot access, voter registration deadlines and to avoid voter confusion, it was determined the most efficient  process would be to roll the special election into the already established primary and general election dates,” McCrory said in a statement announcing his decision.

The 12th District snakes across six counties in the central part of the state from Charlotte to High Point, including parts of Greensboro and Winston-Salem. It was created after the 1990 U.S. Census as a majority-minority district under the Voting Rights Act and is about 45 percent black and 7 percent Latino.

President Obama took nearly 79 percent of the vote in the district in 2012.

Former U.S. Rep. Mel Watt

Former U.S. Rep. Mel Watt

Watt, 68, who has held the seat since it was created, resigned after being appointed by  Obama to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

McCrory’s decision comes on the heels of a racially charged debate last summer over a new state law requiring voters to show identification at the polls. Republicans pushed through the law after taking control of the General Assembly in 2012.

The U.S. Justice Department has since sued the state to block the voter ID law from taking effect.

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