A few weeks ago, the State Board of Elections made the appointments for all 100 county boards of elections – two Republicans and one Democrat per county, from lists provided by the state political parties. The party of the governor gets the majority of seats on each local board, as well as the State Board of Elections. Board members are supposed to put aside their partisan missions and focus on administering an elections process that is fair, accessible and secure. Having Donkeys and Elephants as policymakers can be tricky, but with a professional staff and state oversight, it can work – if the members remember that their higher duty is to the public, not the party.
With many Republican appointees coming from the ranks of passionate tea party supporters, observers worried we might be headed into a new era of friction at the county level. Unfortunately, the actions in Watauga County yesterday legitimize those concerns. The new Republican members merged three precincts in Boone into one with about 9,500 voters, removed the Early Voting location and Election Day polling site from Appalachian State University, and rammed through other dramatic changes, despite vigorous opposition from the Democrat on the board and an audience of 60 outraged citizens. The biggest losers are college students and others in the ASU community – and the integrity of a fair election process. Note that the Republican board members are not old white men making a final last gasp at holding power; they’re young true believers determined to create an elections system that matches their narrow, exclusionary perspective.