Editorials

A new elections board is coming -- and it's leaving out the second biggest group of voters

The Mecklenburg elections board is about to go from three members to four, but one large group of voters will be left out of consideration.
The Mecklenburg elections board is about to go from three members to four, but one large group of voters will be left out of consideration. 2016 Observer file photo

North Carolina’s legislators have a clear message for all you unaffiliated voters: Take a hike.

Sure, there are almost 60,000 more of you than there are Republicans in Mecklenburg County, but that doesn’t mean you get any say when it comes to running elections. For that, state law provides that Republicans and Democrats are equally in charge – even though Democrats almost double Republicans in the county. Unaffiliated voters have no seat at the table whatsoever, despite being the second biggest group of voters, far ahead of Republicans and Libertarians.

A new state law that has been in limbo is about to be implemented, now that the state elections board has been appointed amid a legal fight. That board will name two Democrats and two Republicans to each of North Carolina’s 100 county boards – and no unaffiliated voters.

Two Republicans and one Democrat make up Mecklenburg’s current board – a holdover from when Gov. Pat McCrory was in office. Gov. Roy Cooper’s victory over McCrory was supposed to switch it to two Democrats and one Republican, but legal challenges left the old board in place. Now an additional Democrat will be added to create a 2-2 split.

That makes tie votes more likely, which will harden partisan divisions and fail to convincingly resolve challenges the board hears. It also doesn’t reflect the county’s demographics. Mecklenburg has on its rolls 315,486 Democrats; 228,110 unaffiliated voters; 170,488 Republicans and 4,313 Libertarians.

Given those numbers, unaffiliated voters deserve at least one spot on the board, even if being registered unaffiliated is no guarantee of a voter’s independence. We saw evidence of that this week as the eight new state Board of Elections members haggled over naming a ninth, who the law requires be unaffiliated. Damon Circosta, who ultimately was appointed, is registered unaffiliated but has a clear left-of-center background.

Why does any of this matter? Because elections boards decide important things like how many early voting locations to open and where, and they hear challenges to candidates’ eligibility and other matters.

In Mecklenburg, the board over the next 10 days will decide six challenges brought against current candidates. Five of those claim that the candidates did not properly file their notices of candidacy (and that Republican Party executive director Dallas Woodhouse did so for them). And one alleges that Democrat Brandon Lofton, who is challenging Republican Andy Dulin in state House District 104, does not live in the district, as the law requires.

Thousands of voters have registered as unaffiliated because they feel that neither of the two major parties adequately represent them. Even as their numbers rapidly grow, they will continue not to be adequately represented, including on county election boards.

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