WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Monday, June 12, North Carolina Republicans introduced Senate Bill 749, a bill to reform the structure of the state and county boards of elections, giving lawmakers more power in the process.
S.B. 749 would remove the governor’s power to appoint board members and grant it to the North Carolina Legislature instead. Political parties would be able to nominate members, but the Legislature would not be required to follow their suggestions. Additionally, the boards would have an even number of Democrats and Republicans. Under current law, the party that holds the governor’s office (currently Democrats) is empowered to appoint a majority of board members.
This is not the first time that the North Carolina Republican Party has attempted to restructure the board. Following the election of Gov. Roy Cooper (D) in November 2016, but prior to his term’s commencement, the GOP-led Legislature enacted two bills, Senate Bill 4 and House Bill 17, that abolished the existing Board and Ethics Commission and created a new combined Bipartisan State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement. Former Gov. Pat McCrory (R) signed the legislation into law the same day. In January 2018, after Cooper sued Republican legislators, the North Carolina Supreme Court found the bills violated the separation-of-powers provisions in the state constitution as they “imping[ed] upon the Governor’s ability to faithfully execute the laws.”
In 2018, voters rejected an amendment by 62% that would have similarly granted the Legislature more control over the state board of elections. All living former governors of the state (three Democrats and two Republicans) came together publicly and urged North Carolinians to vote against the amendment with former Gov. Jim Martin (R) asserting,”This is not about partisan politics. It’s about power politics, and it must be stopped.”
While this type of legislation has been previously struck down as unconstitutional, S.B. 749 comes on the heels of a highly unprecedented spring at the North Carolina Supreme Court with the reversal of two decisions and just a week after the state GOP introduced an election reform bill filled with restrictive measures, such as a shortened mail-in ballot return window.