How vacancies in the NC General Assembly are filled

Just a few days into the 2019 legislative session, North Carolina’s General Assembly had a vacancy that must be filled.

Sen. Louis Pate announced Monday that he was retiring, effective immediately, after suffering from ill health for a number of months. The Mt. Olive Republican was in his fifth term in the state Senate after previously serving four terms in the state House.

The process for filling the vacancy is spelled out in state law. Here’s how it works.

1) The executive committee of the political party that held the seat comes up with the name of a replacement. This varies depending on how big the district is.

  • If the district is just one county, the county executive committee of the political party makes the selection. For example, if a Mecklenburg County Republican state senator left office, the Mecklenburg County Republican Party executive committee would make the choice.
  • If the district is more than one county, then the county executive committee of each county gets to put forward one representative into a special district committee that makes the choice. Each county’s vote is weighted by how many people are in the district. So for example, since Sen. Pate represents Lenoir and Wayne counties, there would be two people on the special district committee.

2) The governor immediately appoints the person selected to fill the remainder of the term.

3) If the governor does not make the appointment, the selected person takes office anyway.

That’s really it. Technically, the governor has appointment power here, but it’s really the political parties who make the decision.

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