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Democrats, Republicans respond to lawsuit

By Victor Skinner The Center Square Contributor,

2023-03-14

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(The Center Square) – Unaffiliated voters are the largest voting bloc in North Carolina, and they have no representation on the state or county Board of Elections.

Working with the left-leaning activist group Common Cause, unaffiliated voters filed a federal lawsuit in August challenging the law that limits state board membership to Republicans and Democrats.

Lawmakers are now asking the court to dismiss the case.

“Representation from the Democratic and Republican parties ensures that the policy views on these boards reflect the predominant strains of thought among the public with respect to the administration of elections,” attorney Martin Warf, counsel for House and Senate leaders, wrote in a motion to dismiss filed Friday. “To this end, it was rational for the legislature to include the two main parties but not representatives of unaffiliated voters, because unlike the political parties, unaffiliated voters as a collective, have no discernible policy views.”

North Carolina law tasks the governor with picking the five members of the state Board of Elections from lists prepared by the party chair of each of the two political parties having the highest number of registered affiliates, with no more than three members from the same political party.

The situation means the governor’s party typically maintains a 3-2 majority on the board, and other smaller parties and unaffiliated voters are left out.

The Common Cause lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, alleges “the state law barring plaintiffs and all other unaffiliated voters from serving on the State Board serves no public or valid purpose but instead is a means to entrench the Democratic and Republican political parties in power and give them exclusive control over the supervision, management, and administration of the elections system.”

“This law is ill-conceived because it renders ineligible a large pool of talented and able citizens from service on the State Board,” the lawsuit reads.

Voter list maintenance and individual choices has changed the number of registered voters in the state from about 7.4 million on Jan. 1 to about 7.2 million on March 11. Unaffiliated voters comprise roughly 35 percent of the total, or about 2.5 million voters. Democrat voters, meanwhile, total about 2.4 million, or 33 percent, while Republicans number about 2.2 million or 30 percent.

Compared to the same time in 2022, the number of unaffiliated voters has grown by 85,647, Republicans are up 1,253, and Democrats have lost 81,627.

The trend of increasing Republican and unaffiliated voters, and decreasing Democrat registrations, dates back several years and is expected to result in Republicans outnumbering Democrats by 2029. Unaffiliated voter registrations officially outnumbered Republican registrations in 2016, and surpassed Democrats in 2022.

Regardless, legislative leaders argue none of the plaintiffs in the District Court case have been blocked from serving on the state board, or from serving on local election boards that are not restricted by party.

“The law neither restricts voter choice nor anyone’s ability to run for elected office,” Warf wrote. “The question is then whether (the law) infringes upon a First Amendment-protected right to public service. It does not. ‘There is simply no abstract constitutional right to be appointed to serve as an election (official).’”

The motion points out at least eight other states have comparable statutes that effectively create bipartisan election boards comprised of members from the two major political parties.

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