NC Republican elections proposal would strip the governor of appointment power

By: - June 12, 2023 5:05 pm

Image: NC State Board of Elections

North Carolina Senate Republicans propose to remake the state Board of Elections by increasing membership from five members to eight and by taking all appointment power away from the governor and giving it to the legislature. 

This is the latest of several attempts by legislative Republicans to alter the elections board. Previous GOP attempts were ruled unconstitutional by the NC Supreme Court or rejected by voters.

Under Senate bill 749, the Senate leader, the House Speaker, the Senate minority leader and the House minority leader would each make two appointments to the elections board. Local elections boards would be half the size, but members would be appointed the same way, with party leaders in each chamber appointing a member. 

As it is now, the governor appoints five members after receiving recommendations from the state Democratic and Republican parties. The governor’s political party holds three seats. 

Senate leader Phil Berger said at a news conference that the bill aims to increase confidence in elections. Half of respondents in a recent poll don’t think future elections will be free and fair, he said. Berger did not cite the source of that information. 

A Marist poll published in October reported that 76% of North Carolina residents were confident that state and local governments would run fair elections. An Elon University Poll found that 30% of respondents last October were “very confident” the November elections would be fair and 34% were “somewhat confident.”

Giving each party half the elections board appointments would engender greater cooperation on the board, Republicans said Monday. 

“Our current system is not serving us well,” said Sen. Paul Newton, a Cabarrus County Republican. “To restore confidence in our elections, we have to take a new approach devoid of partisan bias.”

However, Senate Democratic leader Dan Blue called the proposal a “power grab.”

“This Senate Republican elections bill goes straight to the heart of democracy,” Blue said in a statement. “This is a power grab, plain and simple. Republican lawmakers have tried and failed to take over state and local elections for years. It is not the role of the legislature to oversee our elections, it is an executive function. This bill would create more gridlock and uncertainty in our elections system.”

The Republican-led legislature has tried three times before to restructure the state elections board since Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper was elected. The state Supreme Court rejected two of its attempts as unconstitutional. Republicans put a proposed change to the constitution on the 2018 ballot for an eight-member board appointed by the legislature. Voters resoundingly defeated it, with more than 61% voting no. 

Berger suggested that the new Republican majority on the state Supreme Court would decide one the board of elections cases differently. Berger’s son, Phil Berger Jr., sits on the court. 

Under the bill, the legislature would appoint the state elections director if the board deadlocks. The legislature would appoint local board chairs if their members could not agree on a leader. 

Republicans remain angry about a 2020 lawsuit settlement between the state Board of Elections and the North Carolina Alliance for Retired Americans that extended the deadline for mail-in ballots postmarked by election day. The U.S. Supreme Court rejected state Republican and the then-President Donald Trump’s appeal. Republicans mentioned the case Monday at their news conference. 

The legislature is considering a separate elections bill that would put more restrictions on absentee ballots. One of the proposed changes would get rid of the three-day grace period for mail-in ballots that won overwhelming bipartisan approval in 2009. Under Senate bill 747, absentee ballots would have to arrive by the end of election day.

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Lynn Bonner
Lynn Bonner

Investigative Reporter Lynn Bonner covers the state legislature and politics, as well as elections, the state budget, public and mental health, safety net programs and issues of racial equality.