BOONE – After nearly two years of legislative and judicial maneuvering regarding the state and county election boards, the boards are likely going back to where they started.
The potential change back to three-member county boards comes after an October decision by a three-judge panel in Wake County that ruled the current makeup is unconstitutional.
According to Patrick Gannon of the North Carolina State Board of Elections and Ethics office, he understands the county election boards would revert back to three members, the last constitutional makeup that was changed in December 2016. Out of those three-member county boards, two of the members will have members from the governor’s party. The state board would go from the current eight-member configuration of four Republicans, four Democrats and one independent voter to five members, with three from the governor’s party.
When asked about the potential changes, Watauga County Board of Elections Director Matthew Snyder said he wasn’t sure what was going to happen. Board members Eric Eller and Jane Ann Hodges both said a return to a three-member board is what they understood.
Gannon pointed to a recent bill filed during the current extra legislative session. House Bill 1117 would return state and county boards to five- and three-member boards, respectively. The bill was referred to the Committee on Elections and Ethics Law on Dec. 3.
In the last two years since Gov. Roy Cooper defeated incumbent Republican Pat McCrory in late 2016, three separate Republican-backed re-organizations of the state and county election boards were declared unconstitutional by state courts. All of the new election board laws took majorities away from the governor’s party to create “bipartisan” boards.
The latest ruling came on Oct. 16, striking down the nine-member State Board of Elections board and four-member county elections boards.
A proposed state constitutional amendment that would have solidified the “bipartisan” makeup of the state board was voted down in a statewide referendum on Election Day, with 61.6 percent of the 3.5 million voters saying “against.”
The rulings were stayed until Dec. 3 in order to carry out the 2018 elections. Another stay until Dec. 12 was granted by the same court on Nov. 30.