Dan Way reports the potential implications of Senate Bill 656, which lawmakers approved and sent Thursday to Gov. Roy Cooper.

Senate Republicans sent strong signals with Thursday’s passage of the Electoral Freedom Act of 2017 that they may still scrap judicial elections in exchange for some form of merit selection for judges.

Senate Bill 656 is a wide-ranging electoral reform package now awaiting Gov. Roy Cooper’s signature. Its backers said it would eliminate the 2018 judicial primaries so lawmakers can methodically deliberate the best method to choose future judges.

“We as a body have been clear to what our intent was” in seeking an alternate way of selecting judges, Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, primary sponsor of S.B. 656, said during floor debate.

He called the current system flawed because voters seldom know who the candidates are, and know even less about their positions, partly because they are barred from saying how they would rule on cases.

Hise raised the prospect of reviving a judicial retention system the General Assembly passed in 2015, saying a constitutional amendment would resolve any legal hurdles.