State bill adds referendum on partisan school board elections

Published 12:10 am Saturday, May 18, 2024

RALEIGH — A bill ratified on Thursday adds a referendum to the November ballot asking voters in the Rowan-Salisbury School System district whether they believe the school board election should be partisan or non-partisan.

The bill has been in the works between the House of Representatives and the Senate since January of 2023, when Rep. Harry Warren introduced House Bill 31 with the aim of changing the filing period for school board candidates. When Warren introduced it, which he said he did at the request of the Rowan County Board of Elections, the only action the bill took was to change the filing period for school board candidates to between the first Friday in July and the third Friday in July.
By Feb. 16, the bill had received favorable rulings from the House subcommittees and passed three readings.

At that point it was sent to the Senate, which referred it to its subcommittees. In those committees, an extra wrinkle was added by May 31, 2023. A proposed Senate subcommittee substitute was filed that included a provision stating that Rowan-Salisbury Board of Election members would be elected on a partisan basis.

The bill was then sent back down to the House, who failed to concur with the changes after Warren asked his colleagues to vote against it. 

Both the Senate and the House appointed committees on June 21, 2023, and June 13, 2023, respectively. The House committee included representatives Warren, Julia Howard and Kevin Crutchfield. The Senate committee included Sens. Carl Ford, Paul Newton and Warren Daniel. Ford and Warren served as their branch’s respective chairs for the committee.

On May 8, 2024, the committees released a report that reconciled the differences between the two branches. The submitted substitute of the bill that accompanied that report changed the bill from immediately making the elections partisan to adding a referendum to the upcoming election that asks the voters of Rowan County if they want the school board elected on a partisan basis.

“Both Ford and I agreed to change it to put it on the ballot and allow voters the chance to make the decision rather than a heavy-handed decision from the legislation to make it so,” said Warren.

That substitute passed unanimously in the Senate, outside of eight Senators that were absent, on May 9, 2024. It passed the House on May 15, 2024, with a vote of 70-38, with all but three present Democrats, Garland Pierce, Shelly Willingham and Michael Wray, voting against the bill and all present Republicans except for Matthew Winslow, who did not vote, voting in favor. Ten representatives were absent from the meeting.

If the referendum is approved by voters, the act would become effective on Dec. 1, 2026. The filing period change is effective immediately, meaning this year’s filing period is now from noon on July 5 through noon on July 19. However, if the voters approve the referendum, the change will be repealed and school board candidates will have to file in December.

Ford did not return a voicemail and email requesting comment before the Salisbury Post deadline.