North Carolina Republicans seek control over state and local election boards ahead of 2024

Sep 17, 2023, 9:01 PM

FILE - North Carolina Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper affixes his veto stamp at a public rally, May 13, ...

FILE - North Carolina Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper affixes his veto stamp at a public rally, May 13, 2023, in Raleigh, N.C. Republicans who control the North Carolina legislature with veto-proof majorities are close to wresting supervision of elections from the governor and the governor's party, almost always the Democrats for over a century. A bill that could reach Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk this week would, among other changes, take away from him and future governors the power to appoint members of the State Board of Elections. It would give that authority to legislative leaders instead.(AP Photo/Hannah Schoenbaum, File)

(AP Photo/Hannah Schoenbaum, File)

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Republicans who control the North Carolina legislature with veto-proof majorities are close to wresting supervision of elections from the governor and the governor’s party — almost always the Democrats for over a century.

A bill that could reach Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk this week would, among other changes, take away from him and future governors the power to appoint members of the State Board of Elections. It would give that authority to legislative leaders instead.

The legislation also could lead to the ouster of the top elections administrator ahead of the next presidential election in a state where former President Donald Trump squeezed out a razor-thin win over Democrat Joe Biden in 2020. North Carolina was Trump’s narrowest victory that year, raising hopes among Democrats that Biden could win there in 2024.

GOP attempts since 2016 to erode Cooper’s election board power have been struck down by courts or defeated by voters in a statewide referendum.

Cooper plans to veto the bill. But Republican majorities are large enough to override his veto, and Republican justices now have a majority on the state Supreme Court. Here is what the Republican legislation would do:


The State Board of Elections has five members appointed by the governor, a practice dating to 1901. While no more than three members can be from the same party, Democrats have held the majority during Cooper’s term as governor.

The board picks a chair and hires an executive director. Each of North Carolina’s 100 counties also has five-member election boards, which also follow the 3-2 split favoring Democrats. The state board and Cooper pick county members.


Starting next July, the state board would grow to eight members, but all seats would be appointed through the General Assembly. The House speaker, Senate leader and the minority leaders in each chamber would get two picks each. The county boards next year would drop to four members, with each top lawmaker picking one seat.

Although unaffiliated voters could be appointed, it’s likely that the reconstituted boards would be evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. The new state board would pick a chair and an executive director, but one of the legislative leaders — both currently Republicans — would make the choice if the board can’t quickly agree on who should fill those positions.


Republicans say the current makeup of the state and local boards means decisions on contentious election matters fall to what the governor’s party wants, fueling public suspicions that results can’t be trusted. Under the GOP proposal, bill sponsors say the boards will be forced to find bipartisan consensus, increasing voter confidence.

“All we can do is design a board that is intended to take folks who are on it, who have partisanship leanings, and try to remove partisanship from the equation by requiring at least some bipartisan buy-in to do anything,” Republican Rep. Destin Hall said during a House committee meeting. An earlier version of the bill already cleared the Senate in June.

But Cooper, who is barred by term limits from running again in 2024, said in a recent op-ed that the bill has “deceptive packaging” that would constitute a “backdoor attempt to limit early voting and consolidate the legislature’s quest for the power to decide contested elections.”

Voting rights advocates point out that if boards are deadlocked on how many early in-person voting sites should be opened in a county, state law says the county can only offer one site, potentially leading to long lines in the larger cities.

A deadlock on most other issues would produce a standstill with no resolution.


State and county boards accumulate ballot results after elections and vote to certify the results so winning candidates can be seated. But what happens if a board is deadlocked on certifying a race?

Bill opponents worry that with evenly divided state and local election boards, some members might refuse to certify credible results, sending those matters to appellate courts or the General Assembly to settle. The legislation also could open the door for state lawmakers to determine the winner of the state’s 16 presidential electoral votes if a divided state board can’t agree to certify the winner.

The state constitution already gives the legislature the authority to determine the outcomes of what it calls a “contested election” for statewide positions such as governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general.


Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell, who was hired by the board in 2019, is widely respected among her colleagues and serves as secretary of the National Association of State Election Directors. Under her watch, there have been no widespread problems or fraud.

But Brinson Bell has drawn criticism from state Republicans who accuse her and the state elections board of accepting a 2020 legal settlement that eased some rules for mailed ballots during the COVID-19 pandemic beyond what state law permitted. Brinson Bell defended the settlement, saying it helped legally cast mail-in ballots get counted after worries about postage delays during the pandemic.

The state board, with a Democratic majority, certified Trump’s 1.3 percentage point win in the state in 2020 without drama. By contrast, some Republicans on state certification boards refused or delayed certification in battleground states Trump lost.

The bill says if the newly constituted state board next summer can’t agree on who to hire as executive director by July 15, then the Senate’s Republican leader will make the pick. Under that scenario, a new state election director would be starting less than four months before the presidential election.

Sarah Walker, a consultant with the Washington, D.C.-based Bipartisan Policy Center, said Brinson Bell “has taken a comprehensive and thoughtful approach to elections administration.”

“If someone new was appointed in July, they could have potentially little to no experience running statewide elections, and I think that will open the door to potential confusion and increase the likelihood of mistakes and lack of clarity,” Walker added.

Hall, the Republican lawmaker, said he is confident the executive director the board hires would be experienced and respected, and it might even be Brinson Bell. But he said it’s important that the board make “bipartisan decisions moving forward into every election.”


Across the country, concerns have been growing about partisans taking over control of election offices from the state to the local level, part of the fallout from the stolen election lies Trump and his allies have been repeating since his defeat.

Last week in Wisconsin, the Republican-controlled state Senate voted to fire state elections administrator Meagan Wolfe over decisions that were made by the state election board during the 2020 election and that she was obliged to carry out under state law. Wolfe is also widely respected and has overseen largely trouble-free elections in a state where multiple audits, reviews and recounts confirmed Biden’s win in 2020.

Democrats say the effort to remove her was improper, and a legal challenge has already been filed.


The North Carolina House has scheduled a floor vote for Tuesday, and the state Senate already has signaled support for the final measure. A vote to override Cooper’s expected veto might not happen until October and would likely be followed by a legal challenge.

Another election bill Cooper vetoed that is awaiting override votes in the legislature would overturn existing law that allows mailed ballots to be counted if they are postmarked by Election Day and received within three days. It also would allow partisan poll observers to move about voting locations, a provision critics say could lead to voter intimidation.


Associated Press writer Christina A. Cassidy in Atlanta contributed to this report.

United States News

Associated Press

Group of homeless people sues Portland, Oregon, over new daytime camping ban

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A group of homeless people in Portland, Oregon, filed a class action lawsuit on Friday challenging new restrictions the city placed on daytime camping in an attempt to address safety issues stemming from a crisis of people living on the streets. The lawsuit filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court alleges the […]

8 minutes ago

Associated Press

Guest lineups for the Sunday news shows

WASHINGTON (AP) — ABC’s “This Week” — Shalanda Young, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget; Rep. Mike Lawler, R-N.Y.; Chris Christie, a Republican presidential candidate. __ NBC’s “Meet the Press” — Preempted by coverage of golf’s Ryder Cup. __ CBS’ “Face the Nation” — Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.; Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick, […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

An ex-investigative journalist is sentenced to 6 years in a child sexual abuse materials case

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — A former investigative journalist for ABC News was sentenced Friday to six years in federal prison for possessing and transporting child sexual abuse images. James Gordon Meek, of Arlington, Virginia, pleaded guilty in July, admitting in a plea agreement that he used an iPhone to exchange illicit materials during a chat […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

Dad who won appeal in college admissions bribery case gets 6 months home confinement for tax offense

BOSTON (AP) — A former Staples Inc. executive whose fraud and bribery convictions in the sprawling college admissions cheating scandal were thrown out by an appeals court was sentenced on Friday to six months of home confinement for a tax offense. John Wilson, 64, of Lynnfield, Massachusetts, was sentenced in Boston’s federal appeals court months […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

Court orders Subway franchise owners to pay workers nearly $1M – and to sell or close their stores

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A federal court ordered the owners of 14 Subway locations north of San Francisco to pay employees nearly $1 million in damages and back pay — and also to sell or shut their businesses, with any sale proceeds going to the Department of Labor. Federal investigators said franchise owners John and […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

2 Indianapolis officers indicted for shooting Black man who was sleeping in his car, prosecutor says

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A grand jury has indicted two Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officers for shooting a Black man who was sleeping in a car parked outside his grandmother’s house, a prosecutor said Friday. Officers Carl Chandler and Alexander Gregory were indicted on battery and criminal recklessness charges in connection with the Dec. 31 predawn […]

3 hours ago

Sponsored Articles


Mayo Clinic

Game on! Expert sports physicals focused on you

With tryouts quickly approaching, now is the time for parents to schedule physicals for their student-athlete. The Arizona Interscholastic Association requires that all student-athletes must have a physical exam completed before participating in team practices or competition.



Here are the biggest tips to keep your AC bill low this summer

PHOENIX — In Arizona during the summer, having a working air conditioning unit is not just a pleasure, but a necessity. No one wants to walk from their sweltering car just to continue to be hot in their home. As the triple digits hit around the Valley and are here to stay, your AC bill […]


OCD & Anxiety Treatment Center

5 mental health myths you didn’t know were made up

Helping individuals understand mental health diagnoses like obsessive compulsive spectrum disorder or generalized anxiety disorder isn’t always an easy undertaking. After all, our society tends to spread misconceptions about mental health like wildfire. This is why being mindful about how we talk about mental health is so important. We can either perpetuate misinformation about already […]

North Carolina Republicans seek control over state and local election boards ahead of 2024