Here's Why Board of Elections Bill Gives Advantage To Republicans

Dec 15, 2016
Originally published on January 4, 2017 4:32 pm

Update on Dec. 19

Republican Gov. Pat McCrory signed Senate Bill 4 into law. He said in a press release, “This legislation lays important groundwork to ensure a fair and ethical election process in North Carolina." It passed the state House and Senate along party lines. 

Original post on Dec. 15

As North Carolina lawmakers continue their surprise extra session in Raleigh, Senate Republicans are looking to change the balance of power on the state Board of Elections. 

Republican Sen. Bob Rucho of Mecklenburg County is a co-sponsor of Senate Bill 4. He’s told reporters one of its changes would make the state board bipartisan. But the bill would also lock in a Republican to chair the board during presidential years.

The state board currently has five members, and county boards have three. For years, they've both been set up so the governor’s party gets to sway close votes. For example, Republicans currently hold three of the five seats on the state board, and they hold two out of three on county boards.

Rucho’s bill would grow the state board to eight members, and they’d be evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats. It would grow county boards to four members, also evenly split. Those changes would prevent Governor-elect Roy Cooper’s Democratic Party from having the tie-breaking power the governor’s party traditionally gets. In addition, here’s how the legislation would decide who chairs the boards:

“In the even-numbered year, the chair shall be a member of the political party with the second highest number of registered affiliates, as reflected by the latest registration statistics published by the State Board, and the vice-chair a member of the political party with the highest number of registered affiliates.”

That’s a roundabout way of guaranteeing a Republican chairs the board for the biggest elections.

Democrats have a commanding lead in voter registrations in North Carolina. The fastest growing places here are big cities, which tend to vote Democratic, so it’s unlikely Democrats will lose that lead. That means the GOP can expect to have “the second highest number of registered affiliates” - and chair the board - for presidential and congressional elections.

One other note: The number of unaffiliated voters has been growing in North Carolina, and it’s currently not far behind the number of Republicans. The gap is about 24,000 registrations. But even if Republicans drop into third place by registration, GOP lawmakers could argue that unaffiliated does not count as a “political party.” 

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