AP NEWS

Editorial: Time for the N.C. Board of Elections to move on

May 15, 2019

CBC Editorial: Wednesday, May 15, 2019; Editorial #8421 The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company

There was a changing of the guard earlier this week at the State Board of Elections.

While she wasn’t there to witness it, the script was a familiar one for Kim Westbrook Strach. Almost exactly six years earlier, a nearly identical scene (though not by conference call) unfolded with Republicans taking control of the board resulting, on a partisan vote, to her elevation as executive director following the new GOP majority’s ouster of longtime elections chief Gary Bartlett.

This week it was Strach on the outs, effective May 31. A new Democratic majority on the board voted in Karen Brinson Bell to replace her.

Just as members of the board in 2013 praised Bartlett’s work as they ejected him, so too did the current board offer kind words for Strach’s tenure.

That’s just what often happens when boards, in the public and private sectors, change hands. New board majorities want leadership that’s in sync.

Six years ago news reports took little notice, if there was any, of complaints from Democrats over the partisan shift on the board or in the change of executive director.

That was in contrast to reactions now. “The Board of Elections is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Roy Cooper’s Democratic Party,” complained state Sen. Ralph Hise of Mitchell County – a chief GOP architect of election legislation. “And his first move is to fire the executive director who people on both sides of the aisle view as having a sterling reputation for independence and professionalism.”

Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, another of the legislature’s top key election issues leaders, said: “It shows me that control of the process where you can protect your friends and weaponize the process against your enemies must be the goal here. ... I think it is simply to get a person that they can control in that office.”

It was Lewis and Hise who were promoters of a law, later declared unconstitutional, that would have prevented the board from replacing the director.

It has also been Lewis, Hise and the other GOP leaders in the legislature, who have hired Strach’s husband Phil Strach, to represent them in several legal challenges to election and voting laws they’ve passed.

The connections go further than professional. In a 2014 deposition, Kim Strach revealed that Lewis was Phil Strach’s best man at their wedding.

This way too cozy relationship lay bare their phony outrage and political theatrics.

It requires contortions worthy of a circus performance for these lawmakers to appear above politics when its waters lap at their chins.

The shift in the Election Board’s top staff had little to do with quality of work and everything to do with change in circumstances. It happens in the government and business world all the time.

It has been legislators’ obsessive meddling and series of unconstitutional laws that have resulted in bureaucratic delays and confusion in the administration of elections.

It is time to move on. We’re glad to see that’s what the State Board of Elections is doing.