Like dozens of his N.C. General Assembly colleagues, N.C. Rep. John Bradford III, a Cornelius Republican, thought he would have it easy come November.
As of right now, the first-term legislator has no competition in the fall election. His name was expected to be the only one to appear on the ballot in House District 98.
Then came House Bill 2, the controversial legislation passed by the Republican-led General Assembly that many see as discriminatory toward the LGBT community in North Carolina.
Before HB2, Jane Campbell of Davidson was a 51-year-old retired Navy captain living with her spouse, Heather.
A registered Democrat, she was concerned about the direction of the General Assembly the past few years in areas such as redistricting, teacher pay and women’s health. She had thought about running for election.
For her, HB2 was the “tipping point,” and now she is trying to get on the November ballot as an unaffiliated candidate to challenge Bradford, a co-sponsor of HB2. (Under state law, Democrats and Republicans can run as unaffiliated candidates, but it is rare.)
To get her name on the ballot, Campbell has less than seven weeks to get the signatures of 4 percent of registered voters in House District 98, which includes parts of northern Mecklenburg County, near Charlotte.
Campbell said she needs roughly 2,400 signatures, but she is aiming for 4,000. That is 200 pages, with 20 signatures on each.
Campbell is among at least a handful of potential unaffiliated candidates seeking to garner enough signatures to appear on ballots this fall.
If no unaffiliated candidates get the required signatures, 57 of 120 House members and 15 of 50 senators would go unopposed on Nov. 8. Yes, that is 72 of our 170 state legislators.
It seems somewhat unfair that independent candidates need to get so many signatures just to appear on a ballot in a state where unaffiliated voters now make up more than 28 percent – and growing – of the registered voters.
According to the State Board of Elections, voters registered as unaffiliated now make up nearly 1.9 million of the state’s 6.5 million voters.
As she announced her signature effort recently, Campbell said simply going around town getting people to sign will start a conversation in her district about what is going on in North Carolina state government. And if she is successful in getting enough signatures, that debate would continue through the year.
“This campaign will give voters the chance for a real discussion before November – and a choice on the ballot,” Campbell said.
Otherwise, she said, “this first-term politician goes uncontested in a bid for re-election.”
A quick search of the State Board of Elections website showed another half-dozen or so General Assembly hopefuls seeking to get on ballots as unaffiliated candidates.
Perhaps their efforts – successful or not – will spark an overdue conversation about ballot access laws for the growing number of unaffiliated voters in North Carolina.
But I hope they all are successful in getting the required number of petitions. Because what is a democracy without choices?
Patrick Gannon is the editor of The Insider State Government News Service in Raleigh. Reach him at [email protected]