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General Assembly expected to override Gov. Cooper's veto on elections overhaul bill

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"I voted" stickers were distributed at polling stations located in the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History during Election Day on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022.

The Republican supermajority in the N.C. General Assembly is expected to override Gov. Roy Cooper's Sept. 28 veto on Senate Bill 749, an overhaul of the state and county board of elections, and shift power from the governor to the legislature.

Under current state law, the N.C. State Board of Elections appoints two Democrats and two Republicans to each county's boards of elections, and the governor appoints one additional member. The governor also appoints the five members of the State Board of Elections.

S.B. 749 would remove the governor's power to appoint a member to each county board, decreasing their size to four members. The bill would also shift the appointment power for the State BOE to the legislature and increase the number of members to eight.

Historically in North Carolina, the governor has been able to appoint the member that determines the partisan majority of the state and local boards of election, Jamie Cox, the chair of the Orange County Board of Elections, said.

He said this process honors the separation of powers laid out in the state constitution and manifests the will of the majority of voters in North Carolina, because the governor was elected by a state-wide majority. Cox said this has been the case for both parties in power. 

In 2018, a similar proposed amendment to the state constitution that would have given the legislature control over the State BOE was rejected in a referendum by 62 percent of voters.

N.C. Rep. Allen Buansi (D-Orange) said attempting to pass S.B. 749 after voters had already rejected it disregards the will of the people. Buansi, who voted against the bill, said he did so because elections administration requires a working system and introduces partisanship. 

“The old saying goes — if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” he said. “And the bill is unnecessary. It just introduces an element that shouldn't be in there, which is partisanship.”

Buansi said the current system does not allow for any gridlock, but the bill would split membership along party lines and create a system in which votes would be tied based on partisanship. 

UNC political science professor Jason Roberts said his biggest concern is what will occur should boards be deadlocked over an issue. 

“I know some counties have very partisan boards, and there's just no mechanism for this,” he said. “So it’s really just a poorly drafted bill in that way. It’s unclear what happens if there’s a tie.” 

Cox said that the bill’s lack of clarity over resolving ties will be especially challenging for local boards who set the locations and hours for early voting. 

If no decision was to be made by local boards, then the default by statute is that each county would have one early voting location — the Board of Elections office, he said. 

“It would be easy to envision a circumstance with an evenly divided board where there would be deadlock over what that early voting plan should look like, resulting in the default under statute being one location,” he said. “In Orange County and across the state, approximately 65 percent or more of ballots are cast during the early voting period.” 

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com

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