New NC Elections board members seek online process for ninth unaffiliated member

RALEIGH — Three Republican members of the new bipartisan North Carolina Board of Elections & Ethics Enforcement are requesting that the division’s staff set up an online application process for the key ninth, and unaffiliated, seat on the board.

In a letter sent to the commission’s executive director, Kim Westbrook Strach, on Monday, John M. Lewis, Stacey “Four” Eggers IV and Ken Raymond say that the open and transparent application process to fill the ninth seat would meet all the necessary statutory requirements.

“The eight of us have been subject to a year-long process of scrutiny,” said Lewis in a phone interview. “I find it hard to believe that we can find the best candidate if we just walk in there Wednesday for 30 minutes and pick names to send to the governor. … If we do an application process and ask for additional information, it will give us the chance to make sure that these people are the best fit for the position.”

The letter comes as the board’s inaugural meeting of the first eight members is scheduled for Wednesday. Statute does not say how the remaining two nominees, one who will be appointed, are selected. The members said in their letter that an online application, open to the general public, will be most efficient and equitable so that staff can verify the applicants’ registration status before the selection process starts.

“I believe that having a ‘pool’ of qualified candidates from which to select is in the best interest of the citizens of this great State,” the letter read. “I would suggest that the prepared application gather, in addition to the basic information regarding statutory eligibility, information concerning the applicant’s educational and professional background, biographical information, and a statement of interest for why they want to serve on the board.”

The eight board members were appointed by Gov. Roy Cooper last week, chosen from two lists each submitted by the NCGOP and the N.C. Democratic Party. Creation of the reformed board started with legislation passed in December 2017 by the N.C. General Assembly to have eight members, half Republicans and half Democrats, replace the old Board of Elections and the N.C. Ethics Commission.

Cooper filed a lawsuit against the new law saying that it undermined his executive authority to appoint people who share his policy goals. The legislature passed a change to the board adding a ninth unaffiliated seat to break ties. The court accepted the change in a ruling earlier this month.

“The legislature intentionally wanted a solid independent voice for that seat that would not always side with Democrats and not always side with Republicans, but be the balancing person between those parties,” said Lewis. “It’s important that we find the right person to fill that role as the law intended.”

The members suggested that Wednesday’s meeting be recessed until March 29 to allow more time to collect applications for the ninth seat.