RALEIGH — Gov. Roy Cooper’s victory in last November’s election hasn’t ended the squabbling that accompanied his win.
The Bipartisan State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement took public testimony Monday on proposed rule changes that would make it tougher to file election challenges and expand the power of the board’s executive director.
Speakers from the left of the political spectrum praised the changes, saying they are necessary to prevent massive voter challenges like those from former Gov. Pat McCrory’s 2016 re-election campaign.
Advocates from the right denounced the proposed changes as onerous violations of state law.
The public comments were taken by the agency’s legal staff.
Oral testimony and written submissions will be reviewed by the election board once it is in operation. All eight board positions are vacant. Cooper has refused to appoint members while he is fighting the legislation that created the new agency in court.
If approved by the board, revisions would then be submitted to the state Rules Review Commission for adoption.
Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy North Carolina, said the state’s election protest form is easily misused, and backed the proposed revisions.
The existing form allowed the McCrory campaign to use innuendo and false statements without any supporting evidence as a propaganda campaign to delay the vote canvass, Hall said. McCrory didn’t concede the race until Dec. 5, nearly a full month after the election.
Durham County Republican Tom Stark said the proposed rule change would chill potential protests.
Stark, who is general counsel for the state Republican Party but said he was not speaking in that capacity, testified that he knew for a fact felons voted in 2016. He said noncitizens voted, and votes were cast for dead people. Stark was among those filing election challenges last year.
Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the state Republican Party, said the rules would make a criminal offense out of behavior the General Assembly has never put into law. “The writing of this rule is nothing short of shocking,” Woodhouse said.
The new protest form says it is a crime to interfere unlawfully with the conduct and certification of an election, or the ability of a qualified individual to vote, and have the vote counted.
Former Republican state Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam, who served for years on legislative committees responsible for election laws, opposes the sweeping changes.
“These requirements are more onerous than what is required to file a civil suit for a million-dollar controversy in our state courts,” Stam wrote. “The result of these rules is to erect a new barrier to citizen participation, and eliminate the election safeguards” in existing law.
Dan Way is a staff writer for Carolina Journal.