RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Republicans on Tuesday delayed an anticipated vote on a bill making significant changes to state and county boards that oversee elections, as a key lawmaker said the House would likely revisit the bill next week.
State Rep. Destin Hall (R-Caldwell), chair of the House Rules Committee, said legislative staff needed more time to make some technical changes to the bill, but that the substance of it would remain the same. He said he anticipates the House taking it up next week, as there were no other voting sessions planned for this week.
The bill will make the State Board of Elections and county election boards evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. Those boards currently are majority Democratic, as current Gov. Roy Cooper is a Democrat.
The legislature would also assume the power of appointing people to those boards, taking that authority from the Governor.
“We believe that having a truly bipartisan, equally standing board of elections is important. No party has a majority,” said House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland).
Gov. Cooper already has vowed to veto the bill. He announced that when he vetoed separate legislation that makes a variety of changes to state election law, including making Election Day the deadline for mail-in ballots.
“The bill would change the structure of the State and County Boards of Elections in a backdoor maneuver to limit early voting and satisfy the Republican legislature’s quest for more power to decide contested elections,” Cooper said at the time. “The scheme would establish an even split of Democrats and Republicans on these boards, creating potential gridlock and leading to the supermajority Republican legislature and partisan courts deciding contested elections.”
Groups opposing the measure spoke outside the legislature Tuesday, raising concerns about boards being unable to reach consensus on issues like early voting sites, which could lead to a county defaulting to one early voting site. That could disadvantage Democrats who tend to advantage of early voting moreso than Republicans.
“Let there be no mistake. Senate Bill 749 will deadlock our state and county boards in ways that are costly, chaotic and calamitous for our elections,” said Ann Webb, of Common Cause North Carolina.
Republicans have sought to make a similar change to the NC State Board of Elections previously but the state Supreme Court found those efforts to be unconstitutional.
In 2018, the GOP also voted to put a measure on the ballot asking voters to amend the state Constitution to create a bipartisan board. Voters rejected the idea by a margin of 62-38.
In addition to holding a veto-proof supermajority in the legislature, Republicans now have a 5-2 majority on the state Supreme Court, making legislative leaders more confident the bill will stand.
“When one side has the majority on the board of elections like that, they just rule on a partisan basis. If you have a situation where you have an even structure, they have to sit down and work through compromise,” said Moore.
If enacted, the new law would take effect in July 2024 just a few months before the November general election.