Guilford County no longer has a Board of Elections and, when it gets one back – whenever that is – it will look different than it did before, perhaps radically different.
Due to changes in North Carolina law, as of the start of February, newly restructured – but as of yet non-existent – county boards of elections went into effect across the state. There has been an ongoing political and legal battle at the state level for almost two years over the makeup of the state board of elections and over the way elections boards in North Carolina’s 100 counties should be structured.
There are differing legal interpretations regarding the recent situation, but, by some accounts, Guilford County and other counties in the state haven’t had an elections board in place since Friday, Dec. 28, when all former county boards were arguably dissolved.
Guilford County Board of Elections Director Charlie Collicutt said this week that, with a newly restructured state board being named just this week, Guilford County will now have another board appointed. Collicutt said Guilford County hasn’t suffered by not having an elections board since the end of last year because this is a down time for elections activity: With the November 2018 election just completed and all those ballots counted, the Guilford County board isn’t needed to do things like select polling places and rule on the validity of questionable votes.
“In January, we didn’t meet,” Collicutt said of that board, “but we wouldn’t have normally.”
He added that, currently, there’s no Guilford County Board of Elections meeting scheduled for February since the county is boardless for now. If a new board is appointed in the next few weeks that board could hold a February meeting, Collicutt said.
There is, finally, a state board in place. On Thursday, Jan. 31, NC Gov. Roy Cooper appointed five members to the new State Board of Elections – three Democrats and two Republicans. Those members were chosen from nominees submitted by the state’s Republican and Democratic parties.
That board will now in turn appoint four members – two Democrats and two Republicans – to county boards across the state under the new law that established five-member county boards in North Carolina. The fifth member of all the county boards will be appointed by Cooper.
Guilford County had a three-member board for decades and then went to a four-member board after a 2017 battle at the state level over the nature of county election boards.
County Democratic and Republican parties across the state – including Guilford County – are now submitting suggested appointees to the state board for the local boards – though several sources said that, since this is a brand new state board, it’s not clear how closely the state board will follow those recommendations.
The fifth nominee by the governor can be a member of a major party, a third party or registered as unaffiliated, however, since Cooper is a Democrat it’s probably a safe bet that all of the county boards will have a Democratic majority.
Also, under the new law passed last year, the elections board member the governor appoints to the county boards will serve as chairman.
The new state elections board has plenty of business to address. For one thing, it’s set to investigate absentee voting irregularities in the state’s 9th Congressional District. The board is expected to hold an evidentiary hearing this month to determine whether to certify a winner or to order a new election.