Board moving on early voting

Board moving on early voting
February 01
13:40 2018

The Forsyth County Board of Elections (BOE) will begin considering early voting sites for the midterm primaries starting on Feb. 8, as the state awaits court orders on election boards.

The primaries will be held on May 8, with early-voting taking place between  April 19  to May 5. In order to give staff enough time to contact chosen sites, the board will be holding a special meeting to begin early-voting discussions on Feb. 8 at 5 p.m., followed by its regular 5 p.m. meeting on Feb. 15. All BOE meetings are held at the Forsyth County Government Center.

This comes at a time of uncertainty for BOEs across the state. Since last April, the State Board of Elections has been empty as a law attempting to change its composition was debated in court. The legal battle made it so county BOEs remained with their Republican majority boards from 2016 until the matter was settled.

In a 4-3 decision down partisan lines on Jan. 26, the Democratic majority of the state Supreme Court invalidated Senate Bill 68, passed by the GOP-dominated General Assembly shortly after Republican Gov. Pat McCrory lost to Roy Cooper in 2016. It merged the state Board of Elections with the State Ethics Commission, creating a new state agency and board in charge of North Carolina elections.

SB68 also changed the composition of all BOEs in the state to be evenly split between the two major parties, and gave county boards four members, before it was struck down.

“It’s my understanding that the N.C. Supreme Court remanded the case to the three-judge panel lower court to decide on the matter of the composition of the county boards,” said Forsyth BOE Director Tim Tsujii. That panel is expected to get the case by Feb. 15.

They are expected, per the High Court decision, to order county BOEs to continue to have just three members, with the majority being Democrat, because Cooper is now governor.

Candidate filing for the May 8 primaries is scheduled for Feb. 12.

The restoration of the State BOE will mean there will be a board that can resolve conflicts involving early voting plans or election protests that can’t be settled by the local board. By state law prior to passage of SB68, BOEs have a majority from the governor’s party, so the state board will now have a Democratic majority.

Action on filling the State BOE will still come too late to help Forsyth with its voting machine woes. With no State BOE, there was no organization that could certify voting machines, and Forsyth County’s touch screen voting machines don’t meet new state requirements to produce a paper ballot, local BOE officials say. There’s not enough time to go through the long process of getting the new machines, which requires that they be tested during an election, before the May primary. Forsyth and eight other counties in this situation are hoping state lawmakers will pass an extension on meeting the paper ballot requirement. If that doesn’t happen, Forsyth BOE will have to use paper ballots during early voting and rent machines for visually impaired voters.

This will require printing thousands of copies each of dozens of ballot styles, so that early-voting sites can accommodate a voter from any precinct that might go there. Tsujii also didn’t think there would be enough time to get new certified machines in the early voting for the general election.

Reporter Cash Michaels contributed to this story.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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