North Carolina Republicans’ efforts to shift control from the state’s Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement to the legislature fell short again.
Republican legislators’ hopes were resting on an amendment to the state’s constitution after an October court decision struck down a law giving state legislators most appointment power over the board.
However, as of Wednesday with 100 percent of precincts reporting, the amendment fell short of passing, with over 61.2 percent of voters rejecting it and a little more than 38.4 percent voting in favor of it.
The amendment would have both restricted the governor’s appointment power and eliminated the one unaffiliated member of the Board of Elections, leaving four Democrats and four Republicans.
Now that the amendment has failed to pass, the legislature is left without many options in its power struggle with the governor, said Gerry Cohen, former special counsel to the General Assembly.
“I think the voters have overwhelmingly rejected the change, and the state courts are even more prone to side with the governor on this issue,” he said.
Cohen said people across the political spectrum opposed the amendment, which contributed to its failure.
“I think there was sort of a unified opposition,” he said. “All five former governors, Democrats and Republicans, came out against it.”
Rob Schofield, director of N.C. Policy Watch, said the popularity gap between Gov. Roy Cooper and the General Assembly played a role in the vote.
“Here was an unpopular legislature attempting to take power away from a popular governor and altering the balance of power in the state,” he said. “I think it was rightfully seen as a power grab and something that was viewed with a great deal of suspicion.”
According to a poll by Survey USA sponsored by Spectrum News, 49 percent of North Carolinians say they approve of the job Cooper is doing as governor, while only 32 percent approve of the state legislature.
However, Republican legislators were criticized for the wording of the amendment, which some said was difficult to understand.
“It was so confusing,” Schofield said. “They were just almost indecipherable. You really couldn’t understand what they were trying to do.”
Some voters were disillusioned with this tactic.
"Even though I have lots of friends and family that are Republican and actually grew up in a Republican household," Amanda Jackson, a voter from Efland, said. "I was really sad to see this large power grab with the amendments."
Kenzie Bartnik, a sophomore environmental science major at UNC, said she didn't fully understand what the amendments meant when she voted in favor of it.
“They don’t say anything about taking that ninth member away,” she said. “That’s where it feels tricky.”
Bartnik said she believes other voters might have misunderstood the amendment as well.
“I don’t know that anyone could know what that means,” she said. “I was so excited to vote, to use my voice, and now I feel a little silly because I didn’t even look into it. But I just would have voted differently.”
Schofield said although the amendment failed to pass, the political struggle for control of the Board of Elections is likely not completely over.
“It seems like the battle is sort of still on for the future of the state Board of Elections and the courts will still be involved with this,” he said. “The creativity of the General Assembly is endless.”
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