Last night, board members of the Buncombe County Board of Elections upended decades of precedence by approving chief judges nominated by both the Democratic and Republican parties. This is a troublesome, but not surprising, result of the North Carolina Republican Party's attempts to maintain control over the politics of our state through any means necessary since the election of Governor Roy Cooper.
Many will remember back to December, when the GOP-dominated General Assembly passed multiple laws in special session to strip powers away from the incoming governor. These laws fundamentally restructured the State and County Boards of Elections, creating bodies intended to preserve the status quo and ensure gridlock. Despite Republicans insisting these changes were necessary for a "fair and ethical" elections process in North Carolina, this was a blatant attempt to cling to power by a party unhappy with the results of the 2016 Governor's race. On Tuesday night, those laws became real for voters in Buncombe.
County Boards of Elections should never have been put in this position. Thanks to GOP power grabs and ensuing litigation, no guidance was provided to counties by either the State Board or by statute on how to select between two nominees. For decades, party affiliation of the Governor effectively determined which party's nominees would be appointed as precinct chief judges. This fact was not lost on voters who elected Gov. Cooper. Without publicly established criteria or a process for making selections, each county board was left to decide for itself what to do in a situation without precedence. This type of confusion all across the state is a deliberate consequence of these GOP-passed laws.
I believe the board should have waited for more guidance on some process/criteria for selecting appointees, or for a resolution to the legal questions currently before the North Carolina Supreme Court, before appointing chief judges to these positions. If the board had deferred action, previously-appointed election workers would have continued to serve until clarity could be reached. October and November elections would have proceeded with previous workers remaining in place until new workers could be appointed.
Despite the board members' decision on Tuesday, I have complete confidence that the staff of the Buncombe County Board of Elections will do everything they can to equip all appointees with the knowledge and skills needed to conduct elections in our county effectively and efficiently. Buncombe is fortunate to have some of the best and most talented Board of Elections staff members in the entire state, and I commend them for their hard work under difficult circumstances.
When it comes time to vote in November 2018, we must remember -- we are only in this situation because there is a Republican super-majority in the North Carolina General Assembly. Without a super-majority, Governor Cooper's veto power could protect North Carolinians from the kind of legislative overreach that got us to this point. Make sure candidates you support in 2018 value our rights as voters more than they value their desire to maintain power.
For more information more about Cooper v. Berger, currently before the North Carolina Supreme Court, read this article from NC Policy Watch.
Chair, Buncombe County Democratic Party
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