Republican supermajority in NC legislature seeks to deny Democratic governor stranglehold over state elections board

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North Carolina’s Gov. Roy Cooper (D) has up until now been able to appoint members to the State Board of Elections. This has, by extension, given Democrats significant sway over the electoral process in the state.

Republicans took steps Monday to strip Cooper of this power.

Just hours after a panel that Cooper created recommended minimizing the GOP presence on the University of North Carolina governing boards, Republicans introduced the “No Partisan Advantage in Elections” act (SB 749), reported the Associated Press.

Under the current law, the governor is required to appoint the five members of the NCSBE from a list of nominees submitted by each state political party chair of the political party having the highest number of registered voters in the state. Each board member is appointed for a four-year term. No more than three of the five board members can be from the same party.

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The board presently has three Democrats and two Republicans. It has been controlled by Democrats since 2017.

In that time, the board has raised suspicion and inspired doubts among Republicans as to its commitment to fair elections, in part by blocking attempts by the N.C. House Freedom Caucus to inspect voting machines for possible irregularities; attempting to eliminate the requirement that voters have a witness sign their mail-in ballots; and threatening to disqualify former Republican Rep. Madison Cawthorn from running for re-election over his involvement in the Jan. 6 Capitol protests.

The new legislation, which will likely pass the state House and Senate where Republicans enjoy veto-proof supermajorities, amends the existing law to remove the governor’s appointment authority to the NCSBE and increases the number of board members from five to eight.

Should SB 739 pass, two members on the eight-member board will be appointed by the president pro tempore of the Senate; two members by the speaker of the House of Representatives; two members by the minority leader of the Senate; and two members by the minority leader of the House of Representatives.

Accordingly, there would be four Republican and four Democratic appointees on the board.

The Carolina Journal reported that local election boards would follow suit, albeit with one appointment per legislative leader as opposed to two.

“We are living in a time of intense political polarization,” said N.C. Senate Leader Phil Berger (R). “Having a Board of Elections that is controlled by one party only sows distrust in our elections, and we must find a new approach to quell concerns that cast doubt on the fairness of our elections.”

A Cygnal poll conducted in May revealed that 31.1% of North Carolinian respondents answered that this year’s elections would not be free and fair.

Sen. Warren Daniel, a sponsor of the bill, said, “The voters of North Carolina should have faith that members of the Board of Elections can work together to conduct free and fair elections without any perception of bias.”

“We want a Board of Elections that can come to bipartisan compromise, instead of pushing partisan policy goal[s],” said Sen. Paul Newton (R). “Elections are critical to our democracy, and any changes should be made by consensus.”

While Republicans reckon this legislation will bolster trust in state elections, House Minority Leader Robert Reives (D) suggested the legislation amounted to an attempt “to claw powers away from the governor and into their own hands,” reported the Carolina Journal.

“S.B. 749 would, by design, lead to gridlock on election boards and empower Republican-led courts to settle disputes,” added Reives.

N.C. Democratic Party Chair Anderson Clayton suggested the bill was “just the latest in a series of power grabs by far-right Republicans in the General Assembly.”

The Associated Press indicated that Cooper has successfully sued over NCSBE laws introduced in recent years that sought to ensure equitable representation on the board. However, Republicans now hold a 5-2 majority on the state Supreme Court, so the Democratic governor’s victory is anything but guaranteed.

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