GOP runoff primary moved from May to June 23 in response to COVID-19 pandemic

N.C. State Board of Elections Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell

North Carolina State Board of Elections Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell announced today that she is moving the Republican runoff primary for the 11th Congressional district from May 12 to June 23 in response to the public health emergency around COVID-19.

Bell said that in crises the agency is tasked not with stopping elections but with finding a safe and accessible way to proceed. She signed an executive order today moving the election, extending some related deadlines and closing county boards of elections offices to the public. Those boards will continue to accept voter registration forms, absentee request forms and other documents.

She made the announcement to the State Board of Elections at its noon meeting today. Board members supported the decision, and one person asked the public, candidates for office and committees for patience and cooperation.

Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett), who is a chair of the new legislative COVID-19 working group, also tweeted out a statement shortly after the announcement in support of the decision.

“The safety of our voters, poll workers, and elections board staff members must be our paramount concern during this present crisis,” he said. “I fully support the Executive Director’s decision to delay the runoff primary and look forward to working with her staff on any additional legislative measures that could be necessary.”

No Republican candidate received the 30 percent of votes required in the 11th district to avoid a runoff second primary. Congressman Mark Meadows (R-NC) has represented the 11th district since 2013 but announced in December he would not seek another term. He was recently tapped by President Donald Trump to become the White House’s next Chief of Staff.

The second primary election will be held in the 17 western North Carolina counties that make up the 11th district: Avery, Buncombe, Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Henderson, Jackson, Macon, Madison, McDowell, Mitchell, Polk, Rutherford, Swain, Transylvania and Yancey.

Madison Cawthorn, who finished second according to unofficial results, with 20.38 percent of the vote, requested a second primary against top vote-getter Lynda Bennett, who received 22.72 percent of the vote.

No other second primaries will be held this year in North Carolina.

All registered Republicans who live in the 11th Congressional District may vote in the second primary; they did not have to vote in the first primary to be eligible to vote in the second primary.

Also eligible are unaffiliated voters who live in the 11th Congressional District who either didn’t vote in the March primary, or who voted a Republican ballot in the primary. Unaffiliated voters who voted a nonpartisan, Democratic, or Libertarian ballot in the first primary may not participate in the second primary.

Voters do not need a photo ID to cast a ballot in the second primary; temporary injunctions preventing implementation of the photo ID law remain in place. The law was enjoined by a federal district court on Dec. 31 and by the North Carolina Court of Appeals on Feb. 18.

Bell’s decision came after consultation with state emergency officials, Republican Party leaders and elections officials in the counties that make up the 11th District, according to a news release from the State Board. All agreed that moving the second primary to a later date was the right decision in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“The health and safety of North Carolina voters, election staff and poll workers is our top priority during this time,” Bell said. “State and county elections officials are working hard on plans to ensure voters can cast ballots safely in all future elections, even if the threat from COVID-19 persists.”

The order also allows the 17 counties in the 11th Congressional district to move or consolidate voting precincts, if necessary because of the pandemic, for the second primary only and with the approval of the State Board executive director. This is to make sure that polling places are available and will be adequately staffed for in-person voting.

This week, Bell also formed the North Carolina Task Force on Elections & COVID-19 Response, which includes about 20 state and county elections officials and a state Emergency Management representative. The Task Force met telephonically for the first time Wednesday.

Read Bell’s full executive order below.

This is a breaking news story and will be updated as more information becomes available.

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