North Carolina codifies semi-closed primary system

Welcome to the Monday, October 30, 2023, Brew. 

By: Juan Garcia de Paredes

Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

  1. North Carolina lawmakers codify semi-closed primary system
  2. Three Michigan school board members face recall election Nov. 7
  3. State supreme courts issue 247 opinions from Oct. 9-22

North Carolina lawmakers codify semi-closed primary system

Earlier this month, North Carolina lawmakers changed the state’s election law to give unaffiliated voters the right to participate in partisan primaries – in other words, creating a semi-closed primary system. The change came after the Legislature overrode Gov. Roy Cooper’s (D) veto of S747, an omnibus election bill that made a number of changes to the state’s election laws.

Under the new law, political parties holding primaries must allow unaffiliated voters to participate. Previously, state law permitted but did not require parties to allow these voters to participate in their primaries. As of October 2023, unaffiliated voters comprised 35.47% of all registered voters in North Carolina.

Both the Democratic and Republican parties in North Carolina have allowed unaffiliated voters to participate in their primaries since 1995, so the new law does not immediately affect the current primary system. However, the new law eliminates a party’s ability to bar these voters from participating in a primary beginning next year.

Semi-closed primaries differ from closed primaries, in which only voters registered with the party can vote in the party’s primary. In open primaries, any voter may vote in the primary of their choice, regardless of their affiliation status.


  • in 14 states, at least one political party conducted semi-closed primaries;
  • in 15 states, at least one political party conducted closed primaries
  • in 20 states, at least one political party conducted open primaries; and,
  • in four states, parties held some version of a top-two primary, a primary type where all candidates are listed on the same ballot and the top two (or four, in the case of Alaska) vote-getters advance to the general election.

Note that because parties in the same state may hold different types of primaries, the sum of these numbers exceeds 50. 

North Carolina is one of five states that have opened their primaries to unaffiliated voters or begun allowing parties to do so since 2000. Colorado and Maine passed laws allowing unaffiliated voters to vote in the primary of their choice in 2016 and 2022, respectively. Maryland changed its laws in 2003 to permit parties to allow unaffiliated voters to participate in its primary elections. West Virginia did the same in 2011. 

In that same period, Idaho and Wyoming changed their laws to limit participation in primaries. Idaho moved from an open primary system to a semi-closed one in 2011, while Wyoming moved from a semi-closed to a closed system earlier this year.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) vetoed S747 on Aug. 24. Lawmakers in the North Carolina Senate voted 30-19 to override the veto on Oct. 10, and the North Carolina House of Representatives voted 72-44 to complete the veto override later the same day. 

Dallas Woodhouse, former executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party, said, “The change has angered some GOP activists who have long argued that the NCGOP should once again close its primaries and only allow registered Republicans to vote in primary elections. …They claim that if unaffiliated voters can vote in primaries, there is simply no reason to register as a Republican.” 

According to a 1998 study by University of California’s Elisabeth R. Gerber and University of Iowa’s Rebecca B. Morton, “unaffiliated voters provide a moderating influence in semi-closed and open primaries” and “winners of semi-closed primaries had the most moderate voting records in Congress.”

S747 also prohibited private funding for election administration and required absentee ballots to be received by Election Day, among other changes to state law.

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Three Michigan school board members face recall election Nov. 7

Recall elections against three of the seven members of the Sandusky Community School District school board in Michigan will take place on Nov. 7. School board members Jason Trepkowski, Daniel Gerstenberger, and Jane Jacobson are on the ballot. The Sandusky Community School District recalls are three of 14 recall elections we’re following on Nov. 7. 

Michigan recall elections function like special elections. The officials facing recall run against challengers, and whoever receives the most votes wins. In his recall election, Trepkowski is running against David Heberling. Gerstenberger is running against Katherine Tovar, and Jacobson is running against Kelly Trowhill.

The group Save the Redskins Logo filed the recall petitions. The effort began after the school board voted 4-3 in Nov. 2022 to adopt the Wolves as the school district’s new mascot. The board voted to retire the school district’s previous mascot, the Redskins, in April 2022. The reason given for the recall was a “failure to represent and listen to the voice of the public to retain the Redskin logo and voted to change the logo to the wolves on Nov. 28, 2022.”

“This is more than just the loss of the name Redskins and the logo of Chief Two Guns White Calf,” Rick Spiegel, member of Save the Redskins Logo, said. “It is how the school board went about retiring the logo through lies, dishonesty, deceit and cover up. The board ignored the students’ survey results, as well as the voters’ survey results in the school district, not to mention the pleas from Native Americans to keep the name Redskins and the logo of Chief Two Guns White Calf.”

Trepkowski said there were no lies or deceit involved with the name change. “We had eight meetings before we changed this name, and it was all out in the open. This group didn’t come and these people didn’t come. There is a lot of good people on that board and they don’t hide anything. They’re not out to screw the people over. This board is out for the best interest of the school district and the kids in this district,” Trepkowski said.

Recall supporters had to collect 749 signatures per board member to put the recalls on the ballot. They had 60 days between the collection of the first signature and the collection of the last signature on the petition.

Recall supporters filed approximately 1,009 signatures against Trepkowski, 1,029 signatures against Jacobson, and 1,008 signatures against Gerstenberger. The county verified 886 of the signatures against Trepkowski, 860 against Gerstenberger, and 897 against Jacobson, which was enough to put all three recalls on the ballot. Candidates had until May 8 to file to run against the board members in the recall elections.

So far in 2023, Ballotpedia has tracked 43 school board recall efforts against 83 board members. Efforts against 16 officials made the ballot. Six school board members were removed from office in recall elections, and three members defeated their recalls and retained office. The recall elections against the other seven officials have not yet been held.

As of Oct. 26, 2023, Ballotpedia had tracked a total of 248 recall efforts against 360 officials across all office types. As of that time, 36 of the officials targeted for recall had been removed from office in a recall election, a success rate of 10%.

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State supreme courts issue 247 opinions from Oct. 9-22

Let’s end the day with an update on state judicial opinions.

State supreme courts issued 247 opinions from Oct. 9-22. The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia led the field with 30 opinions issued, followed by Delaware with 23 and Pennsylvania with 18. 

The 247 opinions account for 5% of the year-to-date total of 5,339. West Virginia, again, leads with 439 opinions issued since Jan. 1, followed by Texas with 377 and Delaware with 346.

State supreme courts have issued an average of 254 opinions per 2-week period so far this year. This figure is less than the 2022 biweekly average of 286. It’s also less than the biweekly average of 320 opinions issued in 2021.

Supreme courts in 16 states have issued more than 100 opinions since the start of the year.

Some of the state supreme court opinions issued this year include those in:

  1. New York, where the court held that music producer Lukasz Gottwald “was a limited-purpose public figure” in a defamation case between Gottwald and singer Kesha Rose Sebert. Since the court determined Gottwald was a public figure, the court held that it would require “proof that the allegedly defamatory statements [against Gottwald] were made with actual malice.”
  2. South Carolina, where the court, having found the 2021 version of the Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act unconstitutional, declared the 2023 version of the act constitutional; and,
  3. Vermont, where the court upheld a statute allowing noncitizens who are legal U.S. residents to vote in Montpelier’s local elections.

Supreme courts in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Texas, and Delaware regularly end the year as some of the country’s most active courts. Collectively, they accounted for 26% of all opinions issued in 2021 and 2022, and, to date, 28% in 2023.

Every state and the District of Columbia has at least one supreme court, known as a court of last resort. Oklahoma and Texas have two courts of last resort, one for civil cases and one for criminal proceedings. Supreme courts do not hear trials of cases. Instead, they hear appeals of decisions made in lower courts. The number of justices on each state supreme court ranges between five and nine.

In 2020, we conducted a study identifying the partisan balance on every state supreme court. You can find that research here. We also identified which justices ruled together most often in our Determiners and Dissenters report found here.

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