In recent months, the Democrat-controlled North Carolina State Board of Elections (NCSBE) has been at odds with conservatives on a number of fronts, causing Republicans to accuse the board of partisanship.
Over the summer, the two Republican members of the board — Four Eggers and Tommy Tucker — voted to approve the N.C. Green Party’s petition to be recognized and put candidates on the 2022 ballots. When the three Democrats voted not to approve, ostensibly because of questions about the validity of some ballots, the board was opened up to media scrutiny and legal challenges.
Then, on Sept. 2, the NCSBE, again by a partisan 3-2 vote, overruled a decision by the Currituck County Board of Elections and declared Democratic state Senate candidate Valerie Jordan eligible to run. The local board had determined that she was ineligible because of evidence showing that she lived in Raleigh and not at the address she listed in the district. Jordan’s Republican opponent, state Sen. Bobby Hanig, saw partisan bias in the decision to reverse.
“Once again, the Democratic majority on the board decided politics is more important than the rule of law,” Hanig told CJ. “It was evident they made their decision before the hearing even began. And people wonder why they do not have faith in the election process. It is because of shams just like this. This decision was all about partisanship. And Gov. Roy Cooper is to blame, since he told the press recently that ‘nothing will come of this.’ The citizens of District 3 and of North Carolina deserve better.”
A week later, on Sept. 9, the Republican National Committee, N.C. GOP, and county Republicans filed a lawsuit against the NCSBE over whether they illegally moved the absentee-ballot deadline and limited partisan election observers.
“The NCSBE continues to undermine the democratic process with unlawful rulemaking and further restrict the rights of election observers, threatening the integrity of our elections,” said RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel in a press release. “This lawsuit is the latest development in the RNC and NCGOP’s ongoing fight to preserve transparency in North Carolina elections and stop unelected bureaucrats from rewriting the law in the Tar Heel State.”
In comments to Carolina Journal, NCSBE public information director Patrick Gannon pushed back on the claims in the lawsuit, saying, “We generally wouldn’t want to comment on the pending lawsuit. However, I need to correct the misunderstanding that the board extended the absentee ballot deadline. The legislature did that by enacting GS 103-5. See Numbered Memo 2022-09, which explains why the law requires the receipt of absentee ballots on November 14, as November 11 is a state and federal holiday, when mail is not delivered. The same rule/deadline applied under a different administration in 2016.”
Lastly, elections nonprofit Taxpayers for Honest Elections pushed the NCSBE to make voting more accessible to rural voters, after showing data that the further one is from a polling site the less likely they are to vote. They said this disadvantages certain rural groups and that if the NCSBE is going to focus on making voting accessible to all demographics, this should be taken into consideration.
TFHE chose Davidson, Duplin, Moore, Union, and Wayne as counties to focus on in a potential pilot program. They proposed that the NCSBE create an alternative plan for these counties that opened up more sites, after finding that 50,000 voters in these areas did not have accessible early-voting sites.
But after the Sept. 13 meeting, TFHE blasted the NCSBE, saying they “chose ideological beliefs over providing the citizens of our State reasonable access to voting sites” by not considering their proposals despite evidence that rural voters did not have easy access to early voting sites.
“The Board has a statutory duty to determine whether county early voting plans ‘disproportionately favor’ a political party or candidate and whether those plans provide adequate coverage of the electorate,” the TFHE press release said. “However, they chose to instead focus almost exclusively on whether or not counties should offer Sunday voting. Regardless of the day of the week, reasonable voter access to a polling location should have been the driving point of the discussion.”
As the election season continues, there are worries that the perceived partisanship of the NCSBE will create distrust in results and in the board’s neutrality. One effort to alleviate this was launched by the Carter Center, former President Jimmy Carter’s foundation. The initiative is called the N.C. Trusted Elections Tour and aims to have town halls in every U.S. congressional district in the state as well as online.
But while the tour was meant to appeal to both sides politically, there has been some skepticism of the balance. The two organizers are Democrat former Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts and former Republican Supreme Court Judge Bob Orr. But with Orr’s major endorsements of Democrats Wiley Nickel and Cheri Beasley in two of the key races this cycle and with his role in redrawing the Republican legislature’s election maps, his ability to rebuild trust among conservative voters has been called into question.
Editor’s note: A section was removed on statewide at-large poll watchers because it confused them with county-level at-large poll watchers.
This article originally appeared in the Oct/Nov print edition of the Carolina Journal.