If Governor Cooper Wins His State Board of Elections Lawsuit, Will Wake Dems Lose? | News

If Governor Cooper Wins His State Board of Elections Lawsuit, Will Wake Dems Lose?

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On Thursday morning, Gerry Cohen, a former special counsel for the General Assembly, made an interesting observation on Facebook: both the Democratic and Republican parties of Wake County missed the statutory deadline to nominate candidates for the county Board of Elections this year.

And that, he wrote, meant that if Governor Cooper was successful in his effort to overturn a law passed last year reconfiguring the structure of elections boards, the Wake board would consist of “two Libertarians and an unaffiliated voter.” (Cooper has so far been rejected by the courts, but he is appealing.)

Here’s why: the old state law—the one Cooper wants reinstated—allows each party chair to nominate up to three registered voters for each county board. The state board, which is controlled by the governor’s party, then selects the members of each county board from the nominees presented by the parties but cannot appoint more than two members of the same party to the three-person board.

The law also sets a deadline; this year, it fell on June 12. The Wake GOP submitted its nominations on June 19, a week late; the Democrats on July 10, almost a month tardy.

This sluggishness would be unimportant if it weren’t for two more key factors: an ongoing legal battle over the structure the N.C. Board of Elections after the legislature’s power grab late last year and the fact that, for the first time in history, the Wake County Libertarian Party submitted nominations for the Wake County Board of Elections—and managed to do it a month early.

Cohen says he’d been following this closely because he was hoping to earn a spot on the Board of Elections and was surprised to see that the Dems missed the deadline. And since the Libertarian nominees are the only candidates who fulfill all the requirements of the old law, they might be the only candidates available for consideration. (The Libertarians, thinking ahead, also nominated an unaffiliated voter for the third spot.)

If Governor Cooper’s legal challenge fails, the county board would be made up of two members of the political party with the most registered voters and two members of the party with the second most registered voters—i.e., Democrats and Republicans. This would render the candidates put forward by the Libertarian party ineligible.

Of the Libertarian nominees, Jeff Harrod and Amy Howard, both of Raleigh, are registered Libertarians, and Jon Byers, also of Raleigh, is independent. In a press release immediately following the nominations, Libertarian Party of North Carolina Chair Brian Irving stated, “We included independents because statewide they represent nearly a third of North Carolina voters.”

Byers says via email that the structure put forward by the state legislature would only weaken the power of an already anemic governor and, despite being billed as “bipartisan,” would really just shut out third parties and independents more than they already are. Byers says he feels representation of independent voters, who make up a third of all registered voters in Wake County, is an important step toward a democracy that reaches beyond party politics.

The state and Wake County Democratic Party offices did not respond to requests for comment, nor did the governor’s office. The Wake GOP referred the INDY’s request for comment to the state party, which did not respond.


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