A civil rights organization pressed North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory on Tuesday not to wait until November to let voters elect a successor to former U.S. Rep. Mel Watt, saying that will deny representation to 12th Congressional District residents for too long.
Holding a Nov. 4 election to fill Watt's unexpired term means more than 700,000 citizens will be without someone in Congress to speak for them on critical legislation like the budget, immigration and possibly the Voting Rights Act for most of 2014, said the Rev. William Barber, president of the state conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
"Citizens of North Carolina will be forced to go more than 300 days — almost one year — without their constitutionally guaranteed right to representation," Barber told reporters. "This is taxation without representation."
But McCrory, a Republican, stood by his plan to run the special election on the dates already scheduled for the regular 2014 elections in the interests of simplicity, expense and understanding for voters in the Piedmont-area district.
"A simple schedule, where the voters have ample time to evaluate the candidates, and the candidates have ample time to campaign, was the best option," McCrory wrote in a letter to U.S. Reps. David Price and G.K. Butterfield. The two Democratic incumbents wrote the governor last week asking him to reconsider the special election schedule.
Watt, a Democrat, resigned Jan. 6 to become director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency.
Under McCrory's plan, the special election to fill the remaining months of Watt's current two-year term will use the same election dates as the regularly scheduled election for the term that begins in January 2015. The primary for both races will be held May 6 and the general elections on Nov. 4. Primary runoffs, if necessary, would be July 15.
McCrory wrote that the State Board of Elections said the earliest date for the primary to fill the vacancy could have been March 25, leading to a primary runoff in early June and general election in late July or early August.
But that would have meant six elections for the same seat in eight months at a cost of more than $1 million, the governor said, and election officials in the six counties where the12th District sits would be required to keep different sets of poll books to determine who was eligible to vote in each election.
Even if the election for the vacancy followed the 2014 election schedule for the primary and runoff, the earliest final election would have been Sept. 16, or just seven weeks before the November date, according to McCrory.
"In the end, holding the special election on the same days as the general election was the simplest, least costly and least confusing option," he wrote.
NAACP leaders did not propose an alternate schedule, but said a quicker election could be worked out. Irvin Joyner, a Durham attorney and NAACP legal committee chairman, said the group would consider legal action if the governor didn't relent and reschedule sooner.
McCrory spokesman Ryan Tronovitch called the threat of legal action more "litigation games" from Barber. The NAACP has been critical of Republican policies and is challenging in court redistricting maps and an elections overhaul law.
The legislature formed the 12th District in the early 1990s. The district's voters elected Watt, one of North Carolina's first black representatives to Congress in nearly a century. The district is now considered a majority-minority district that heavily favors Democrats.