Legislature overrides veto, enacts law on elections boards

Published 4:23 pm Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Beaufort County’s Board of Elections faces some changes, including increasing its members and how those members are appointed.

A new law brings about the changes. The law changes the composition of county boards of elections by increasing them from three-member bodies to four-member bodies with an equal partisan split. Previously, those boards are composed of two members from the party of the sitting governor and one member of the opposing party. For now, that means each county board of elections has two Republicans and one Democrat.

Last Friday, Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, vetoed the legislation. On Monday, the state Senate overrode that veto. The state House followed suit Tuesday, thereby enacting the law. About an hour after the N.C. General Assembly overrode that veto, Republican legislative leaders went to court in an effort to block expected efforts by Cooper to get the new elections administration law thrown out as unconstitutional.

During a special session in December, lawmakers voted to combine the two boards, but a three-judge panel determined that legislation was unconstitutional because the legislators overstepped their authority. The legislators modified Senate Bill 68 to address those concerns.

The new law creates the eight-member North Carolina Bipartisan State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement, formerly the North Carolina State Board of Elections and State Ethics Commission. The quasi-judicial agency would have the power to issue subpoenas and make witnesses testify. The agency would be managed by an executive director, but overseen by an eight-member board evenly split among party lines. The board would appoint the executive director.

The governor would appoint four members from the political party with the highest number of registered voters in the state and four members from the political party with the second-highest number of registered voters in the state. Board members would serve two-year terms.

As for local elections board appointees, the law reads, “In 2017, members of county boards of elections shall be appointed by the State Board on the second Tuesday in July. In 2019, members of county boards of elections shall be appointed by the State Board on the last Tuesday in June and every two years thereafter, and their terms of office shall continue for two years from the specified date of appointment and until their successors are appointed and qualified.”

It’s unclear exactly what the new law means for local boards of elections, especially in regard to ethics situations, according to Kellie Harris Hopkins, elections director for Beaufort County. She’s waiting for the state board to provide direction regarding the new law. Opponents of the new law could challenge it in court, she noted.

“We have not had any communication from the state board as far as duties are concerned, relating to this specific law,” Hopkins said. “If we’re the Board of Elections and Ethics, I would think that would imply we’re in charge of ethics, but there’s not a county ethics office. I don’t know.”

Hopkins addressed on known issue regarding the change.

“If it stands, the direct impact would be that we would have four members instead of three. It would increase payroll costs,” she said. That added member would need to attend required training sessions, adding to the board’s training and travel costs, she said in a previous interview.

Republican Reps. Beverly Boswell and Michael Speciale voted to override the veto, as did Republican Sen. Bill Cook. Boswell represents House District 6, which includes part of Beaufort County. Speciale represents House District 3, which includes part of Beaufort County. Cook represents Senate District 1, which includes Beaufort County.

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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