Ford’s bill would change board of elections appointment power

Published 12:05 am Wednesday, April 5, 2017

By Josh Bergeron

SALISBURY — Sometimes, legislators introduce bills to “wake people up,” says Rep. Carl Ford.

A measure he helped introduce last week may be exactly that.

Ford, R-76, is a primary sponsor of a bill to change the way members of boards of elections are appointed in Davie, Rowan and Stanly counties. If local election trends continue, the proposed bill would mean Republicans in Rowan County would control of the board of elections regardless of the party of the governor.

If it becomes law, the measure — House Bill 508 — would tie the majority on the three boards of elections to the majority on each county’s board of commissioners. Republicans have consistently held a majority on the Rowan County Board of Commissioners, and there currently are no Democratic commissioners in Davie, Rowan or Stanly counties.

Current law gives the election-board majority to the party of the governor. Under former Gov. Pat McCrory, all boards of elections in North Carolina had two Republicans and one Democrat. Under Gov. Roy Cooper, that will change to two Democrats and one Republican.

Asked about his bill, Ford said it’s designed to create stability.

“We felt like we needed a little stability because there seems to be none in the Governor’s Mansion,” he said. “You get a board on there and they start working together, and then it’s all blown up.”

Over the previous 50 years, there have been 10 governors. Seven have been Democrats. Three have been Republicans.

Ford said there’s a chance that some Democrats who represent counties where their party holds the majority on the county board might sign on as co-sponsors of House Bill 508. But he expressed doubt that the measure will pass the legislature and become law. He also questioned whether such a change would make a notable difference to the way elections are handled in Rowan County.

“Let’s be honest; a lot of bills are filed to wake people up and get people’s attention,” Ford said.

Other primary sponsors are Reps. Julia Howard, R-79, and Justin Burr, R-67. Howard’s district includes Davie County. Burr’s district includes Stanly County.

Rowan County Democrats issued a “call to action” on Friday because of the bill.

“The Rowan Republican legislators are at it again. It seems that if they can’t win, they will cheat and change the rules,” Rowan County Democratic Party Chairman Geoffrey Hoy said in an email.  Make no mistake. This is a power grab by far-right Republicans who want to disenfranchise African-American voters, Hispanic voters, elderly voters, and all other voters who stand against their extremist agenda.”

Hoy said there’s no clear problem that would be addressed by House Bill 508. County elections staff and poll workers are trained and have no record of significant election problems or fraud, Hoy said.

Ford said he’s seen decisions in recent years that have benefitted one party. He cited the extension of voting hours in some counties as a decision that would disproportionately help Democrats.

Ford said Democrats “scream” for bipartisanship and nonpartisanship. When Democrats don’t benefit, Ford said, they back away from bipartisan and nonpartisan ideas.

Rowan County Elections Director Nancy Evans, whose tenure includes time under Democratic and Republican governors, said board members usually make decisions in a nonpartisan manner.

“They know that this should be a nonpartisan position and their positions should be what’s best for the voters and the citizens of Rowan County,” Evans said. “Even though they’re appointed through the parties, their job is not to see it as a party position but what’s best for the citizens.”

Ford’s bill is the latest effort to change the composition of local boards of elections.

In December, the General Assembly passed a law that merged the state Board of Elections and state Ethics Commission. The law would have evenly split the state and local boards of elections between Republicans and Democrats. But implementation of the law was put on hold by the state Supreme Court.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.