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Amid pending legislation, state panel poised to appoint county election boards

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(The Center Square) – The North Carolina State Board of Elections on Tuesday will appoint four members to each of the 100 county board of elections, while Gov. Roy Cooper will appoint the respective chairman for each.

While those members, chosen from a list of candidates provided by the state’s two major political parties, are slated to serve until June 24, 2025, their terms could be cut short next year under legislation pending in the General Assembly.

No Partisan Advantage in Elections would increase the five-member state board to eight members, with appointments split evenly between party leaders in both chambers of the General Assembly. The bill would also reduce county boards to four members, using the same appointment process.

Sponsors of Senate Bill 749 contend the new system will require bipartisan cooperation to increase the public’s faith in elections while doing away with the partisan five-member boards controlled by the governor. They’ve cited recent polls that show roughly half of North Carolinians do not believe the next election will be free and fair.

If approved, the legislation would result in a new State Board of Elections appointed this year to serve through May 1, 2025. Those members would remain eligible to serve two full consecutive four-year terms. The provisions related to county boards would take effect on June 1, 2024, with members serving until June 1, 2027. County board members would then be appointed to two-year terms.

Cooper has attacked SB749 as a plot by Republicans to “ignore voters and rig elections,” and is expected to veto the bill. Republican supermajorities in both chambers of the General Assembly could overrule a veto, if fully present and united.

A similar situation played out in 2017, when Republican supermajorities voted to override a Cooper veto to block evenly split bipartisan election boards. The law was struck down by both the state Supreme Court and voters through a 2018 ballot referendum.

Senate leaders acknowledged when they introduced SB749 earlier this month it could eventually face legal challenges, though not for the same reasons.

“Having a bipartisan board of elections, we believe, would comply with the constitution,” Senate President Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, told reporters. “We don’t think that the issue that would be brought forward with this legislation has been decided by a court.”

SB749 cleared the Senate with a party-line vote of 28-19 last week, and is now under consideration in the House.

Berger said previously that chamber leaders are largely in agreement on SB749, but are “still having conversations about the local boards.”

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