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Special to Replace Ballance Set for July 20

North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley (D) has set July 20 as the date for a special election to fill the vacancy created by Rep. Frank Ballance’s (D-N.C.) resignation last week.

The contest will be held in conjunction with the state’s primary elections.

In a statement, Easley said holding both elections on the same day will save the state about $500,000 and ensure that 1st district residents are represented in Congress.

Now, it will be up to the Republican and Democratic party executive committees in the district to select who they will nominate as their candidates in the special election. Those decisions are expected to be made expeditiously, as the absentee voting period for the special election begins the week of June 20.

Four Democrats and two Republicans are competing in the primaries to succeed Ballance, who announced last month that he would not seek re-election. It is possible that two of those candidates will also compete on a separate special election ballot.

Each party could also choose to nominate a placeholder — someone who is not already seeking the seat and who, if elected, would serve out the remainder of Ballance’s term.

Democrats will make that decision tonight, when they assemble at the Greene County Courthouse in Snow Hill.

Former state Supreme Court Justice G.K. Butterfield (D) is considered the leading candidate in the race to succeed Ballance. Butterfield, who was appointed to the state Supreme Court by Easley, is also believed to be favored by the governor.

Other Democrats running are East Carolina University professor Christine Fitch, Elizabeth City businessman Sam Davis and attorney Darryl Smith.

District Republicans were scheduled to meet on Saturday to decide their special election pick. Greg Dority and Jerry Williford are squaring off for the GOP nomination in next month’s primary. Both men planned to attend the weekend meeting.

Democrats outnumber Republicans in the majority-black district by a 4-to-1 margin, and Republicans are not expected to make the special or general elections competitive.

Ballance, first elected to the eastern North Carolina-based seat in 2002, cited ongoing health problems as his reason for stepping down. His resignation was effective Friday.

The 62-year-old Democrat was diagnosed in February with myasthenia gravis, a condition that results in muscle weakness.

Federal and state investigators are also probing the activities of a drug and alcohol counseling program he founded in northeastern North Carolina and then helped steer funds to while serving in the state legislature.

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