News: Quick Takes

Court filing seeks relief for stymied county elections boards

County elections boards with only two members would be allowed to take actions during this municipal election season, under a proposal filed today with the N.C. Supreme Court. That proposal would end a roadblock created by the ongoing legal dispute involving the state elections board.

Attorney General Josh Stein filed the petition outlining the proposal Tuesday. It requests changes to a July 20 court order “that have become necessary to conduct orderly elections in the coming months.”

County elections boards are conducting municipal elections in September, October, and November, the petition explains. Until members of the State Board of Elections have been appointed, vacancies on county boards cannot be filled.

But the State Board of Elections has no members because of Cooper v. Berger. That legal battle pits Gov. Roy Cooper against state legislative leaders. The dispute focuses on the fate of a merged eight-member bipartisan board focusing on both elections and ethics enforcement.

This legal fight has left multiple county elections boards in limbo. “As of the date of this Petition, approximately 14 county boards have only two members and are thus unable to take any official action to administer their municipal elections,” the petition explains. Current state law requires all three members of a county elections board to be present for the board to have a quorum.

“These county boards are therefore unable to carry out a number of crucial elections tasks, such as hearing challenges to the qualifications of a candidate, transferring voters between precincts when necessary, adopting one-stop plans to conduct early voting on a schedule beyond the statutory minimum, hearing election protests, and certifying the results of the election in that county,” according to the petition.

That’s why the petition asks the Supreme Court to lower the local elections board quorum requirement to two members. The two remaining members would have to agree to make any decision.

The petition specifically asks for the following addition to the state Supreme Court’s July 20 order:

While this matter is considered on appeal, any county board of elections with a vacancy reducing its membership to two members — such that the board cannot meet quorum requirements under Section 7.(b) of Session Law 2017-06 —may meet and conduct business under N.C.G.S. § 163-31, as it previously existed, with a quorum and unanimous assent of two members.

Stein’s petition represents “the state,” acting jointly with state elections staff. Lawyers for the other parties in the case “consent” to the petition. That consent does not mean a waiver of any of the arguments under dispute.

The N.C. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in Cooper v. Berger on Aug. 28.