Polk County School Board to shift toward partisan elections in 2024

Published 3:08 pm Wednesday, December 13, 2023

New legislation affects four school boards in North Carolina


POLK COUNTY—North Carolina House Bill 66 goes into effect in 2024, making the election of members to the Polk County School Board partisan. Candidates for school board will either need to run as Democratic or Republican, or obtain roughly 650 signatures (4% of the county’s voter population) to get on the ballot as unaffiliated. Henderson and Rutherfordton County School Board elections are already partisan.

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The bill, which originally applied solely to Catawba County, was amended by an N.C. state Senate committee to include Polk County. Under the new legislation, four school boards; Catawba County, Hickory City, Newton-Conover City and Polk County, will change from nonpartisan to partisan. The bill passed in the N.C. General Assembly on June 7.

N.C. Rep. Jake Johnson, a supporter of the bill, defended the legislation, explaining on the Polk Lore podcast on December 5 that participation in school board elections was statistically very low.

“People just weren’t participating in these elections at the level they were in other elections,” Johnson said. “The logic is that people didn’t understand what [the candidates] stood for and what platforms they were running under.”

Two years ago, the Polk County commissioners proposed putting a referendum on the ballot to see if the public would be in favor of making school boards partisan. The Board ultimately decided against the idea.

Nearly 40 percent of Polk County voters are registered as unaffiliated, and one of the Board’s concerns was that a move to a partisan election for the school board would make it extremely difficult for registered unaffiliated voters to run for a seat.

At a Polk County Board of Commissioners meeting on June 5, Melton read a statement saying “The Polk County Board of Commissioners doubts a partisan school board is the right direction for the children of our county,” adding “There is a risk that disrupting the school board with partisan politics could remove focus from our children’s education.”  

Three Polk County School Board seats, representing White Oak, Tryon and Saluda, will be on the ballot for the primaries to be held on March 5, 2024.