The new Republican-majority State Board of Elections took office today and quickly elected attorney Josh Howard as its chair. Partisan wrangling broke out over the selection of the new executive director to replace the 20-year veteran Gary Bartlett. Bartlett is nationally recognized for upgrading the state’s voting system, increasing professional management of county election offices, and supporting procedures that provide improved access for voters while protecting ballot security and election fairness. Republicans have made it clear they would replace him, and their choice of Kim Strach today created a partisan split among the new board members. The two Democratic members wanted more time to consider Strach’s background and sought to keep Bartlett for a few more weeks of transition time, but the three Republicans voted to move ahead. Strach is the current Deputy Director of Campaign Reporting for the State Board of Elections and led the Board’s investigations of House Speaker Jim Black, Ag Commissioner Meg Scott Phipps, Rep. Thomas Wright and many other political figures.
Bob Hall applauded her choice and said he respected her independence and commitment to seek the truth, based on how she had handled investigations following complaints filed by Democracy North Carolina over the past dozen years. In fact, she began a review of the irregularities related to over $235,000 donated by sweepstakes operator Chase Burns immediately after Hall showed her the results of Democracy NC’s March 18 analysis of Burns’ donations. Contrary to some reports, the new members of the Board did not need to immediately approve an investigation of the issues raised in the formal complaint Hall filed in April because the staff has already begun that inquiry. The test will be how the investigation proceeds and what happens if Strach seeks subpoenas or other authority from the Board to demand records that may implicate – or clear – the Moore & Van Allen lobbying/law firm where Gov. Pat McCrory worked while he campaigned in 2012. The firm represented Chase Burns’ company and its lobbyists admit they hand delivered or mailed his donation checks to many legislators.