Thursday’s 12-hour NC Board of Elections meeting may be the longest on record – a few members stood around exhausted and a bit loopy after it was over, speculating.
It was, without question, one of the most bizarre.
The board had quite a task ahead of them. They had to thread the needle of complying with recent federal rulings on state election laws, deal with political pressure and its ensuing controversy and navigate the conflicting personalities and unique partisan struggles of 33 counties across the state.
The board did, on the whole, avoid the sort of partisan rancor that some worried would ensue and did lean toward restoring voting hours and Sunday voting access where they had been rolled back. That’s not to say voting is where it needs to be, or that the board could or should carry the ball themselves on equitable voting.
But in overturning the plans of the GOP majorities on various county boards, the state board – which itself has a 3-2 Republican tilt – rankled plenty of feathers.
Among the most unusual:
*Cumberland County, where the Republican majority wanted to eliminate Sunday voting entirely.
Kevin Hight, a Republican from the county board, railed against Sunday voting even as board members asked him about other features of Cumberland’s early voting plan.
He argued that people don’t get to decide which day they go to court when they get traffic tickets, so they shouldn’t get to decide when is most convenient for them to vote.
Rhonda Amoroso, the state board’s most vocal Republican, called this line of reasoning persuasive and eloquent. But the rest of the board wasn’t buying it. Sunday voting – which the county had in 2008 and 2012 – was ultimately restored in a 4-1 vote.
Hight ended up banging on the guest speaker’s lectern and shouting, “If Sunday voting is the panacea that we’ve been told it is, then we need to have it every single election, not just when Democrats want it!”
Told that the state board respected his opinion but that the 4th circuit disagrees with his reasoning, Hight replied that not *all* judges feel that way.
* Richmond County, whose lone Democratic county board member Carlton Hawkins was the only one to come before the state board Thursday. He asked the board to restore Sunday voting hours. When asked how the county board’s two Republicans justified rolling back Sunday voting, Hawkins said, “”Both of the Republicans are southern Baptist preachers. God don’t want you to vote on Sunday.”
That got a laugh. But his follow up line got a bigger one.
“I told them God don’t want you managing a restaurant on Sunday either,” he said. “But you’re still going to one after church.”
* Duplin County, whose board chairman Derl Walker stated at the outset he wasn’t there to defend the board’s plan but to “listen and learn.” Walker seemed utterly confused as to why his board couldn’t cut the number of voting hours down below the legal minimum and argued at length that his town was too small, poor and rural for many early voting hours.
Told that even the minimum number of voting hours were going to be too expensive, state board member Joshua Malcolm told Walker, “Your county commissioners are going to have to belly up. Send them the bill. They’ll pay it. They don’t want to be sued.”
* Watauga County, where the largest argument was over whether to have the Appalachian State University voting site in the student union or at a BYOB nightclub called Legends – the description of which had many in the room wondering why they didn’t go to App State. The bickering between the Democratic and Republican county board members who appeared before the board – and the board’s attempts to broker some compromise – crossed a line into a sort of marriage counseling. In the end the board had to throw up its hands and give Watauga five more days to figure out the unresolved venue situation.
Few people left the meeting completely satisfied – certainly not the last few counties, who due to the lateness of the hour were asked to keep their arguments to one minute in a sort of lightning round.
But compared to the political train wreck many were fearing – a low bar, certainly – it could have been a lot worse.