NC GOP Trying Again To Cement Control Of Local Elections Boards During Election Years

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat, has condemned his state's Republican-sponsored voter ID law and constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. But in his position he must defend the state against lawsuits on both issues. (Takaaki Iwabu/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT)
Raleigh News & Observer/Tribune News Service

Even after a court called such a scheme unconstitutional, the GOP-controlled North Carolina legislature will try again to design county election boards to guarantee that Republicans have the chair in election years.

The provision is included in election legislation released Monday evening that walked back some of the power-grabbing moves the legislature attempted in 2016, after Democrat Roy Cooper (pictured above) won the governorship. The legislature, however, is holding on to a provision that set up a rotation system for county boards that would guarantee that Republicans controlled the county boards in years with statewide elections.

The new legislation would, in odd-numbered years, make the chair a board member who is from “the political party with the highest number of registered affiliates,” which are the Democrats in North Carolina. In even years, when statewide elections are held, the chair would be a board member who is from “political party with the second highest number of registered affiliates,” i.e. the GOP, under the legislation.

Governor Cooper sued over a similar provision and other legislation Republicans passed in 2016 seeking to undermine his authority to appoint members to the state elections board and other state panels. A panel of three state judges ruled in his favor in October when it came to those elections-related provisions. The annual rotation system that Republicans are are seeking to set up for county board chairs — as well as a similar system they sought in 2016 for the state elections board — has been declared unconstitutional. However, the state supreme court has not weighed in on the provision. It’s not clear if Republican lawmakers believe they’ll have a better chance under that court, which is a majority Democratic, of being allowed to implement the system for county boards.

North Carolina Rep. David Lewis (R), who is chairman of the House Committee on Rules and the top sponsor of the new legislation, did not respond to TPM’s inquiry.

Prior to the 2016 attempt to overhaul the county election boards, the governor would appoint two of a local board’s three members, and then the board would vote to chose its chair.

In 2016, the GOP legislature took on a number of changes to limit the appointment powers of the incoming Democratic governor. Due to extreme gerrymandering in the state, Republicans had and still have veto-proof supermajorities — though Democratic gains in the 2018 elections will break those supermajorities with the incoming legislature next year.

In 2016, the legislature sought to rework the state board of elections, which previously was made of three appointees of the governor’s and two from the opposing party, so that it would be made up of four members appointed by the governors and four by the legislatures. The courts have declared that system unconstitutional, though implementing that ruling has been delayed while the state board wraps up its work on the 2018 election.

The new legislation does not try to reinstate those changes, though it does impose a requirement that executive director of the elections board have five years experience. Additionally, the new legislation would shift campaign finance oversight to the state’s board of ethics, the remnant of the elections board Republicans tried to create in 2016, where four members are appointed by the governor and four by the legislature. By doing so, it is feared, campaign finance law will be harder to enforce by a board that is perpetually deadlocked by party.

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