Will Politics of Cooper’s Board of Elections Affect Chief Justice Race as Perpetual Recount Continues?

RALEIGH – Republican Paul Newby leads Democrat Cherie Beasley in the race for Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, but it’s the Democrats that control the N.C. State Board of Elections (NCSBE) that may be pivotal in the final outcome, according to Rick Henderson, editor-in-chief of Carolina Journal.

The Cooper-appointed Board has already been mired in political drama this election season, with the two Republican members resigning in protest after Democrats colluded with partisan litigants to loosen election rules. The rule changes — extraordinary extensions to ballot acceptance deadlines and an attempt to eliminate the witness signature requirement for absentee ballots — are among the very same extralegal rule changes under scrutiny in other states. The same partisan lawyer, Marc Elias, is involved in most of the cases.

And that’s just the most recent partisan tension at the NCSBE.

Naturally then, when it comes to sensitive matters, Cooper’s NCSBE is suspect. As far as the historically close race between Newby and Beasley, their independence is critical, writes Henderson:

“[…] The state elections board also has scheduled a hearing Friday, Dec. 18, to consider protests filed by the two candidates. County elections boards were asked to hold any protest hearings no later than Dec. 9, with written orders filed by Dec. 11.  

Even if Newby survives all the recounts with a lead, the fate of the election will sit with the Democrat-majority state elections board. The Beasley team filed 92 county protests, according to the state Republican Party and elections board records. The chief justice’s lawyers are asking the state board to reverse decisions made by county boards, also with Democratic majorities, and include Beasley ballots or reject Newby ballots that were handled by local officials. 

The outcome will test the board’s independence. 

“The seemingly never-ending chief justice’s race reminds us that North Carolina’s statewide election apparatus is run by a board dominated by Democrats,” said Mitch Kokai, John Locke Foundation senior political analyst. “Republican legislators tried more than once in recent years to transform the state elections board into a bipartisan outfit, but state courts foiled those efforts. So now every decision this board makes will face extra scrutiny. Observers will look for signs of partisan bias. It’s hard to imagine that any outcome favoring Beasley could escape accusations that Democrats have twisted the rules to benefit one of their own.” […]”

Henderson says that, with another full hand recount still possible, we may not have the final result until 2021. We’d like to think we KNOW the outcome already, but with a record-thin margin and Cooper’s NCSBE we’ve learned, at least, not to rule out blatantly political moves.

So, this chicken won’t be counted until the NCSBE breaks through with a final stamp of certification. That could be after Christmas, or after that New Year. And that’s okay; we all know how important election integrity is in 2020. Similarly, best we get there without any political election shenanigans; we’ve had enough of those.

Get a full run down of the protests filed by Beasley and Newby, as well as how the high court could start the new year with only six justices, here.

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