Stuck: County Election Boards in NC Caught in Dispute Over Appointment Power

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The ongoing battle between North Carolina’s newly-elected Democratic Governor and the GOP-controlled legislature over appointment of election boards has left numerous counties unable to function for lack of quorum. Reflector.com has more:

The Pitt County [Greenville] Board of Elections and nine other boards across the state cannot conduct business because of Gov. Roy Cooper’s attempts to reverse a law that changed the formation of the state and local election boards.

Ten percent of the state’s county boards — Pitt, Carteret, Chowan, Cumberland, Edgecombe, Jones, Lincoln, Perquimans, Transylvania and Vance — are made up of three members and each has had a member step down this year. This prevents them from voting on issues needed to prepare for the upcoming municipal elections because they lack quorums.

Under new election rules approved by the General Assembly in December, and currently being challenged by Cooper in the state Supreme Court, these boards lack a quorum and are unable to vote on issues related to the upcoming municipal elections.

Lack of quorum has put several activities on hold, including preparing for local elections this fall:

Under new election rules approved by the General Assembly in December, and currently being challenged by Cooper in the state Supreme Court, these boards lack a quorum and are unable to vote on issues related to the upcoming municipal elections.

Among these issues are the approval of precinct chief judges which must be done in August, said Dave Davis, Pitt County elections director.

For municipalities that hold elections in September, early voting begins in August, so local early voting plans need to be finalized in the near future.

Pitt County’s 10 municipalities all hold elections in November, which means early voting will begin Oct. 19.

While there is no deadline for finalizing early voting details such as polling locations, the Pitt County Board of Elections has traditionally finalized its plans in late summer, Davis said…

Along with approving precinct chief judges, Pitt County’s elections board has to approve the use of Eastern Pines Fire-Rescue-EMS as the voting site for the Simpson A precinct, Davis said. The building is located outside the Simpson A precinct boundaries but has the necessary size and security measures to house a polling location. It can be used as long as the board approves it, Davis said.

Counties are doing their best to continue preparations without a quorum, but continued delay could end up limiting early voting this fall:

“The boards with two members cannot hold meetings because they cannot make quorum,” said Patrick Gannon, a spokesman with the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement. “Counties without three members are directed to follow their usual business practices as to all matters that do not require a direct vote of the board…”

There is a written agreement that the county’s 10 municipalities will pay the local elections board to operate two early voting sites, one at the center at Alice Keene Park on County Home Road and the other at the Pitt County Agricultural Center on Government Circle, Davis said. The city of Greenville funds two additional voting sites at the Willis Building and Pitt Area Transit System offices in the county office building off West Fifth Street, Davis said. There also is discussion about the town of Winterville funding an early voting site at the community room in the town’s fire-rescue building.

Technically, the elections board must vote to approve this arrangement, Davis said. Without a vote, the municipalities may have to follow the state’s minimum requirement that one early voting site be open in the county election board office during regular business hours which would be 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m.-1 p.m. on the Saturday before election day, Davis said.

Pitt County should be able to continue its early voting plan because the county has a written agreement with the municipalities, he said.

Gannon said the executive director of the state elections office, Kim Westbrook Strach, “will do everything she can to ensure all counties with municipal elections this year are able to carry them out.”

Whatever you think of the merits of the appointment fight at the state level, it’s clear that policymakers’ inability and/or unwillingness to set aside partisanship is starting to have an effect on the ability to administer elections at the county level. It hasn’t yet begun to affect voters, but that day could be coming very soon. Here’s hoping cooler heads prevail before North Carolina’s already tumultuous election system – already the target of litigation on numerous fronts – gets even more unsettled.

Stay tuned …

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