Local election boards travel well-worn path
RALEIGH -- In my earliest days as a reporter, one of the first stories that I covered involved the turmoil swirling around the governance of Duplin County elections.
I don't remember a lot about the details about the controversy.
What I do recall is that the governor at the time was Jim Martin. Then, like now, the three-member local boards of election were made up two Republicans and one Democrat, with the majority determined by the political party of the governor.
At that time, an overwhelming majority of Duplin County residents registered as Democrats.
Whatever mischief ensued from a couple of Republicans telling a county full of Democrats how to run their elections, the result was that then-state Elections Supervisor Alex Brock and the state Board of Elections (also a majority of Republicans) had to come down to Duplin County to clean up the mess.
Sitting in one of those ancient, cavernous Southern courthouses that recalls scenes from "To Kill a Mockingbird," I watched as the folks from Raleigh tried to get everyone involved to play nice.
For the first time since then, local elections boards are again controlled by Republicans.
It would be nice to believe that the Republican Party in North Carolina, in all corners of the state, had grown up enough in the quarter century since to avoid a repeat of history.
But taking their cue from a GOP-controlled state legislature that saw nothing wrong with passing an elections bill designed to make voting more difficult for demographics likely to oppose their party, local elections board aren't off to a good start.
In Watauga County, the local elections board voted to eliminate an early voting site and Election Day polling place at Appalachian State University. They also chose to combine three polling places into one, meaning 9,300 Boone residents -- including students -- will be voting at a single site that has 35 parking spaces.
At the same meeting, the board decided that it would no longer allow the public to comment at meetings except in written form.
Amazingly enough, the board's chairman is named Bill Aceto and not Mullah Omar.
Across the state, the Pasquotank County Board of Elections decided it would bar an Elizabeth City State student from running for a town council seat because he lists an on-campus residence hall as his place of residency. The decision appears to run contrary to a 35-year state Supreme Court decision, which made clear that students could register and vote (and presumably run for office) in the towns where they attend college.
In Winston-Salem, the head of the Forsyth County Board of Elections said he planned to eliminate an early-voting site on the campus of Winston-Salem State University.
How the new state Board of Elections views all of this is anyone's guess.
Its view ultimately may not matter. What matters is the law, voting rights and constitutional principles of equal protection under the law.
As voting-rights groups have made clear, it can enforce them or judges will be asked to.