New state law could add member to Polk board of elections

Published 10:00 pm Thursday, February 9, 2017

COLUMBUS – A new law by the state of North Carolina could eventually mean the Polk County Board of Elections will add a member to its board.

The Polk County Board of Commissioners met Monday, Feb. 6 and heard from board of elections director Cliff Marr about the local impact of the N.C. Session Law 2016-125, which passed in December 2016.

Marr said the law is 30 pages and does various things, but the main thing is to consolidate boards of election and ethics boards. The main thing for Polk County is that the current three-member board of elections would become a four-member board.

Governor Roy Cooper has challenged the constitutionality of the law in N.C. Superior Court, Marr said. A three-judge panel of the Wake Superior Court has ruled for a preliminary injunction putting all changes on hold pending a final order on the merits of the case, Marr said. Marr also said the state board of elections legal team has said the case may take many months to resolve.

Currently, county boards of election have three members with no more than two of any political party. The state chairman of each political party recommends three registered voters to the state board of election in June of odd numbered years. The state board must appoint three members from those recommendations for two-year terms.

Marr said currently most actions of a board of election require a majority vote of two board members, with some actions requiring unanimous votes. The board of election itself votes to elect its own chairman and secretary by a majority vote at the start of each two-year term.

If the new law goes into effect, a county board of election will be comprised or four members with two members from the political party with the highest registration and two members from the political party with the second-highest registration.

The state chairman of each political party will recommend three registered voters to the state board of election and the state board must appoint four members from those recommendations for two-year terms. Most actions of a board of election will require a majority vote of three members, with some actions still requiring unanimous votes.

The chair and vice-chair will be voted by majority, except the chair must come from the party with the highest registration and the vice-chair will come from the party with the second-highest registration in odd numbered years. In even numbered years, the chair must come from the party with the second-highest registration and the vice-chair must come from the party with the highest registration. The appointments of chair and vice-chair will occur in July.

Marr said currently two members on a county board of election are typically from the party of the governor and one is from the next strongest party. The new law will mean two members from each party will serve on the board. In Polk County’s case, the parties are Republican and Democrat. The current board has two Republicans and one Democrat because the last governor was Republican.

Marr also said the state parties will still make nominations and the process, he believes, of the state asking for local nominations will remain the same with the new law.

Marr also said the new law may impact his budget minimally for training an extra member on the board of elections.

Commissioner Ray Gasperson asked what the procedure is now since the law is not yet in effect.

Marr said the Polk County Board of Elections will remain a three-member board. Normally, new appointments are made in July, so Marr said the current members will stay on Polk County’s board until this summer.

Current members of the Polk County Board of Elections are chair David Moore, secretary Sharon Goettert and member Scott Woodworth.