Court dissolves elections boards


Staff Writer

Friday, January 4, 2019

Twin Counties elections offices are operating without the oversight of elections boards following a court ruling that dissolved the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement.

A panel of state judges ruled in October that a law reorganizing the board was unconstitutional. The panel stayed the ruling so the board could deliberate on alleged violations that are holding up the congressional election in North Carolina’s 9th District. The panel last week refused to extend the stay further even though an investigation has not been completed.

The state panel and all 100 county boards of election are effectively dissolved as a result until some point after a new law goes into effect on Jan. 31, state and local officials said earlier this week.

The shake up isn't affecting day-to-day operations of the elections office in Nash County, said John Kearney, the county's elections director.

“In most cases the board would not meet during the first few months of each odd year as no board action would be required,” Kearney said. “This year is no exception as we currently have no business for the board to hear.”

Edgecombe County Elections Director Jerry Spruell said he's pretty much doing the same thing.

“We are right now doing the usual things that we would be doing with direction from the state election executive director and staff,” Spruell said. “We really do not have any business to meet on during this time of the year where we would require a board.”

Kearney and Spruell said they're waiting to see what happens next.

“I do not expect to have any business for the board until late spring as we get closer to the municipal elections,” Kearney said. “While it is not clear when we will have a board, I assume that the state board will be appointed in February so the counties should have a board by late February or March.”

Pitt County Elections Director Dave Davis said it’s not clear when a new board will put appointed.

“At this point in time, nothing is definite,” Davis said.

The new law was given final approva last monthl by the General Assembly after overriding a veto by Gov. Roy Cooper. It establishes a five-person state board made of two Republican members, two Democrats and a chairman appointed by the governor.

The state board then appoints five-member county boards of the same makeup, Davis said. The board could include the four members who were on the board, but that won’t happen until after the new state panel is appointed.

State elections staffers also are postponing a hearing set for Jan. 11 into allegations of possible ballot fraud in the 9th Congressional District, according to The Associated Press.

That announcement came Wednesday after Cooper said he will not try to move ahead with an interim state board. Republicans refused to nominate GOP members for the temporary panel.

There was some speculation that an interim board also could appoint temporary county boards, but officials said that seems unlikely.

Davis said the Pitt County board was scheduled to meet on Jan. 16 to go over the calendar of work and upcoming deadlines related to the 2019 municipal elections, but no action is necessary until after Jan. 31.

Otherwise, it’s business as usual at the office, Davis said, with the staff conducting list maintenance on voter rolls.

The office mailed about 7,000 notices to registered voters who had not cast ballots in the last two federal elections or contacted the office to update their registration.

On Wednesday, they were reviewing about 400 that had been returned so far by the U.S. Postal Service as not deliverable. The staff will process the cards and determine if the names should be removed from active rolls, Davis said.

County boards “do not have appointed members and therefore may not meet or conduct business this month,” State Board of Elections attorney Katelyn Love wrote Friday in an email to board of elections directors obtained by Telegram sister newspaper The Daily Advance of Elizabeth City.

Elections staff in Pitt and other counties said they will need their boards back in place to perform election-time duties, such as appointing precinct officers, setting voting hours and investigating problems at the poll.

They also provide year-round supervision and direction to elections staff and make recommendations to the state about hiring or firing a county elections director.

“I'm still coming to work,” Pasquotank Deputy Elections Director Rebecca Creech said Wednesday.

The Pasquotank office is updating voter lists and sending out change-of-address mailers as well, she said.

Jon Hawley of The Daily Advance and Bobby Burns of the The Daily Reflector contributed to this report.