RALEIGH — Municipal elections came and went, largely without issue. But the newly created Bipartisan State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement remains in limbo, and the potential for complications persist every day the board isn’t operating.
The General Assembly and Gov. Roy Cooper are embroiled in a legal fight, which began with the passage of Session Law 2017-6 in April, otherwise known as Senate Bill 68. The governor has long argued the merger of the election board and ethics commission into one bipartisan board is unconstitutional, but the General Assembly contend it’s within its power to merge the boards.
The law requires Cooper to appoint all eight members of the election board — four Republicans and four Democrats — but the governor has refused while the case is pending. The issue is expected to go before the N.C. Supreme Court.
Despite the continuing legal fight, the election board staff conducts day-to-day business.
“By statute, in single-county contests, the results are certified by the county boards of elections,” said Patrick Gannon, spokesman for the election board. “In multi-county contests, the State Board office has conducted all of its usual post-election audits and plans to issue letters to winning candidates in those contests.”
Certain functions are reserved for the board.
“One issue we are dealing with presently is the fact that there is no board to hear appeals of county board decisions on election protests,” Gannon said.
Without a board in place, election protesters wishing to appeal county board decisions must take their complaints to the Wake County Superior Court.
Another legal battle — this one involving the legislative redistricting — may affect upcoming state and local elections. The court case may continue past the February 2018 filing date for candidates, potentially delaying or disrupting the primary election.
“This agency, as it has up to this point, will continue to keep the courts and legislators aware of the time lines necessary to ensure elections are conducted lawfully and fairly,” Gannon explained. “The court is aware of the 2018 filing deadlines.”
Lindsay Marchello is a staff writer for Carolina Journal.