Elections Board examines a voting machine

Watauga Elections Board members test a voting machine at the Tuesday, Oct. 2 meeting. From left to right: Board members Jane Ann Hodges, Nancy Owen, Eric Eller, Richard Rapfogel and Elections Office Executive Director Matthew Snyder.

RALEIGH — After over two years of political maneuvering over state and county elections boards, a law mandating five-member county boards was passed over the governor’s veto on the last day of the 2017-18 session.

The veto override of House Bill 1029 occurred on Dec. 27 in both the state House (68-40) and Senate (28-12), mostly along party lines, which differentiated from the bipartisan original passage of the bill.

Both Rep. Jonathan Jordan of Jefferson and Sen. Deanna Ballard of Blowing Rock, both Republicans, backed the bill and the veto override.

H1029 will create new state and county election boards after going into effect Jan. 31. The previous boards were dissolved due to the October court ruling on Dec. 28 after a temporary stay ended.

“At this point, we have no board,” said Watauga County Elections Office Director Matthew Snyder.

Snyder said he expects new county boards to be appointed in February, but did note that things could change before then.

The NCGA’s override comes after Cooper vetoed H1029 on Dec. 21, saying that while it did return the N.C. State Board of Elections to “a constitutional structure,” he couldn’t support the new provisions regarding campaign finance law.

“These new provisions operate to obscure the truth rather than shine a light on it,” Cooper’s veto stated.

State GOP leaders disputed the claim, saying that the penalties would be the same, the only change being that campaign finance investigations would remain private until proven to be legitimate.

H1029, originally introduced in May as a Department of Transportation and Division of Motor Vehicle changes bill, was rewritten as a conference report, not allowing amendments to be made to it prior to passage. The bill was introduced on Dec. 11 and passed both branches of the NCGA on Dec. 12.

H1029 aims to comply with an October court ruling that declared the previous makeup of the state election boards unconstitutional.

The big change will come to the county election boards, as the number will grow from four to five. Four of the members will be appointed by the state board, with no more than two from a single political party; and the chair appointed by the governor, allowing for a 3-2 edge for the governor’s party.

Currently, the boards are made up of four members, two Republicans and two Democrats. In Watauga County, the most recent board included Republicans Nancy Owen and Eric Eller and Democrats Jane Ann Hodges and Thomas Marvin Williamsen.

H1029 requires five-member state boards, all members appointed by the governor, with no more than three members from any political party. The setup mirrors previous versions of the board prior to the 2017-18 NCGA session’s multiple attempts to reorganize the board to take away the governor’s party’s advantage.

Previously on the nine-member state board (four Democrats, four Republicans, one independent), Watauga County residents and former county board members Stella Anderson, a Democrat, and Stacy “Four” Eggers IV, a Republican, were members.

The October 2018 ruling that declared the current state elections and ethics makeup unconstitutional was due to go into effect Dec. 2, but was stayed until Dec. 12 and again to Dec. 28 due to an ongoing election fraud case in North Carolina’s Ninth Congressional District in Bladen County.

However, an additional stay through Jan. 31 was denied, and the current boards were dissolved on Dec. 28, according to media reports.

Cooper sought to appoint a temporary state elections board until Jan. 31 in order to hold hearings on NC-09, but the North Carolina GOP refused to submit a list of names and Cooper then reversed course. The North Carolina State Board of Elections’ Executive Director Kim Strach said the office will continue its investigation until hearings can be held, which would be Jan. 31 at the earliest when H1029 goes into effect.

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