ROCKINGHAM — Seven months tardy and with one designee added, the four members of the Richmond County Board of Elections took the oath of office Monday.
New member Hazel Robinson joined fellow Democrat Carlton Hawkins and Republicans A.B. Brown and Ernie Walters in realizing the vision of last year’s GOP-led legislature: a four-member board, evenly divided by party.
Gov. Roy Cooper had challenged that makeup in a lawsuit brought before the state’s Supreme Court last year — he claimed the legislature wanted to usurp his executive power — but dropped the issue before eventually winning his way on the constitution of the state elections board: four each of Democrats and Republicans, plus one unaffiliated or Libertarian tie-breaker.
“We’re not sure quite what the idea is of having two Democrats and two Republicans,” Brown said after the swearing-in, in the bunting-bedecked elections office. “The whole system has kind of been turned upside down.
“(But) on a local level, we really work well together.”
County Elections Director Connie Kelly confirmed that pledge of no conflict, recalling that only the issue of Sunday voting had polarized the board, in 2012 and 2016. Both times, the state board decided to allow Sunday voting, based on county precedent.
Everything may have been amicable on Monday, but things weren’t always that way.
Last year, Senate Bill 68 merged the State Board of Elections and N.C. Ethics Commission into the N.C. Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement, and dictated that county elections boards grow from three to four members.
Cooper vetoed the bill, saying he thought it was unconstitutional and would foul the election process. Both legislative houses overrode his veto.
If the law had gone unchallenged, members would have been appointed and sworn in by last July. But because Cooper took the law to court, the state elections board didn’t get the chance to appoint county members until March 27 of this year.
Originally, state statute did not specify party affiliation of county boards, although those appointed have been nominated based largely on political activity. Instead, state statute specified only that county members be “persons of good moral character who are registered voters in the county in which they are to act.”
Additionally, no county board could comprise three members of the same party or anyone related closely by blood or marriage.
Ultimately, the state board chose the three candidates it liked from names submitted by county party chairs and usually reappointed them until they resigned or were disqualified for one reason or another.
On Monday, new member Hazel Robinson said she was looking forward to working with the committee, as well as learning from them. She added that they might learn a thing or two from her, too.
After their swearing-in, board members chose Hawkins as board chair, Brown as vice chair and Walters as secretary.
Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673 or [email protected]