RALEIGH, N.C. -- North Carolina election supervisors on Friday added two candidates to the state's Republican presidential primary ballot, even though the state GOP had asked that Donald Trump be the only one listed.
The State Board of Elections — composed of three Democrats and two Republicans — agreed unanimously that ex-U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh of Illinois and former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld met the candidate qualifications in state law.
The state's five official political parties had to submit lists of presidential hopefuls for the March 3 primary by earlier this month. A 2013 state law says the list should have candidates “whose candidacy is generally advocated and recognized in the news media throughout the United States or in North Carolina." While the state Democratic Party provided 15 names, state GOP Chairman Michael Whatley in October provided the board with only the name of the incumbent president.
A majority on the board, however, can add names if they believe a candidate meets the criteria. Weld and Walsh's campaigns separately petitioned the board, pointing out the national news coverage they've received. They said the two also have qualified for the primary ballot in several states.
“I would respectfully ask on behalf of a large number of registered Republicans that they be given a choice in the presidential primary,” Bob Orr, a former state Supreme Court justice representing the Walsh and Weld campaigns, told the board.
State GOP Executive Director Jonathan Sink opposed the additions, particularly Weld, “If you take it by a reasonable-person standard, if you follow the plain reading of the law, he does not meet the criteria,” he told board members.
Still, Republican board member Ken Raymond offered the motion to add the pair, saying they met the threshold in the law.
Sink said afterward the party leadership wasn't concerned because “we believe that President Trump will resoundingly win anyway.” Such a ruling could be appealed to state court.
South Carolina and some other states have canceled Republican primaries and caucuses next year. The moves would help Trump consolidate his support, but some Republicans say excluding challengers is undemocratic. North Carolina is a closely divided battleground state where Trump won its 15 electoral votes in 2016 by about 4 percentage points.
Walsh tweeted after Friday's vote that that the board reversed “yet another attempt to fix the primaries by @realDonaldTrump and state party bosses. Why does Trump fear free and fair elections?”
Requests by several other candidates to get on the North Carolina ballot were not approved Friday. The Libertarian Party and the Constitution Party of North Carolina will also hold contested primaries. The Green Party has only one candidate listed.
Primary voters can also pick “no preference" for president on their primary ballot.