Stateline Story

Primary Schedule Now Nearly Complete

  • July 24, 2002
  • By Greg McDonald

Courts have finally cleared the way for primary elections to take place in Florida, Kansas, North Carolina and New Hampshire, the last states where legislative redistricting disputes threatened to derail this fall's nominating process for the general election.

But it's still unclear whether the New Hampshire primary scheduled for Sept. 10 will include a full slate of candidates for all statewide races. The state Supreme Court is still trying to resolve a dispute over the 400 House districts and may not issue its remap plan in time to place candidates on the ballot.

As things stand now, the New Hampshire primary will feature party showdowns in the races for U.S. Congress, governor, the state Senate and a handful of other statewide offices. Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan said there is still a slim chance the state House contests could also be added to a separate ballot in time for voters to make their choices on that day as well, but that depends on when the court finishes redrawing the districts.

If a final plan is issued by week's end (7/26) there may still be time for candidates to file and to print up the ballots. If not, he said, the state will have to hold a second primary later in September for voters to select their nominees to the state legislature.

"Each day that goes by makes it that much more difficult...We're really up against the wall," Scanlan said..

Other states are also facing rushed schedules because of scuffles between Republicans and Democrats over district lines that ended up in court and have recently been resolved.

North Carolina was the only state to actually have its primary postponed because of redistricting disputes. Elections officials were forced to put the planned May 7 primary on hold while lawmakers feuded in state and federal courts over the shape of legislative districts.

The General Assembly finally approved a new primary date of Sept 10 after the Justice Department signed off on a court-drawn remap plan for state House and Senate seats earlier this month. At the same time, lawmakers voted to scrap a runoff election that would normally occur between the primary and general election in November.

"What we're looking at is a shortened timeframe (for candidate filing and pre-clearance of ballots through the Justice Department)," said Johnnie McLean, deputy director of administration for the North Carolina Board of Elections.

McLean said she worries that the lack of a runoff election, coupled with the shortened schedule between the primary and general election on Nov. 5, could cause problems if disputes and court challenges arise over recounts or administrative errors.

Normally, a runoff is held when the leading candidate fails to get more than 40 percent of the vote in a race that has three contenders or more. This year, however, the candidate who gets the most votes will be certified as the winner.

"I've been here 17 years and I've never see anything like this. Can you imagine what's its going to be like in a real close race. "We've already begun to pray, Dear Lord, please let them all win big,'" she laughed.

Kansas and Florida came close to postponing their primaries. But now that state and federal courts have resolved fights over their legislative and congressional districts, the elections can move forward. Kansas will hold its primary on Aug. 6, Florida on Sept 10.

At least one other state holding elections this fall Maryland is still awaiting the outcome of a court challenge to redistricting. But the fight in Maryland over congressional boundaries is not expected to interfere with its Sept. 10 primary.

Two other states meanwhile, chose to take the safer route this year of avoiding any potential problems that redistricting could cause for their elections. Maine and Montana opted not redraw their legislative and congressional boundaries until next year.