After losing a handful of court challenges and a ballot referendum, Republicans in the General Assembly appear to have given up on the hope of creating a truly bipartisan state Board of Elections.
The ensuing legislation appears to follow the pattern of chastened compromise that Republicans have adopted as of late.
Under a new bill introduced Tuesday, the State Board of Elections would essentially return to the way it was in November 2016, before numerous legal changes made after Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper was elected.
- The state board will have 5 members, three from the governor’s party and two from the opposition party. They’ll be seated May 1, 2019.
- Ethics enforcement would move back to its own board with eight members, four from each party.
- The Secretary of State’s office will take back oversight of lobbying.
There are some subtle differences, however. For example, county boards of election would expand to five members.
The capitulation comes after Republicans had their previous version of a board of elections bill overturned by the state Supreme Court. They then put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to mandate a bipartisan board of elections with four Democrats and four Republicans. Voters rejected it.
Republicans may still get one big benefit in this bill.
As the bill has progressed, a provision that would require any 9th Congressional District do-over to go all the way back to the primary stage has been added and deleted.
Under current law, the State Board of Elections is only able to call for a do-over of the general election between Republican Mark Harris and Democrat Dan McCready.
Harris would presumably be weakened in a new contest after allegations of illegal absentee by mail ballot fraud in Bladen County.
That said, politicians on both sides of the aisle have been calling for a completely new election for the 9th Congressional District — so this is more than just partisan maneuvering.
Leadership announced that this would be part of the bill. However, late Tuesday, it appeared that there were not enough votes to make that a reality. Presumably, loyalists to Harris pushed back. The legislation first revealed did not make reference to the primary.
The version that ultimately passed the House and Senate did include the provision — and actually requires any newly called election to include a primary. It awaits the governor’s signature or veto — and it might be tough to get the votes to override.
The bill also requires a full report on absentee ballot fraud to be presented to the General Assembly by April 1, 2019.