RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A new edition of North Carolina’s State Board of Elections convened Wednesday, a panel now tasked with helping implement a photo voter identification law later this year and administering 2024 general elections under yet-again different legislative and congressional district maps.
The board’s five members — three registered Democrats and two Republicans appointed to four-year terms by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper — were sworn in to their positions and picked leaders.
Three members are new to the board — Democrats Alan Hirsch and Siobhan Millen and Republican Kevin Lewis. Democrat Jeff Carmon and Republican Stacy “Four” Eggers were reappointed to another term.
The new board unanimously elected Hirsch as the next chair, succeeding previous Democratic Chair Damon Circosta, who is no longer on the board, along with Republican Tommy Tucker and Democrat Stella Anderson.
Hirsch, the CEO for a small biotechnology firm in Winston-Salem, said he understands the gravity of the board’s role. North Carolina, the nation’s ninth-largest state by population, has 7.25 million registered voters and often closely contested statewide races.
“This is about the confidence in our election process,” Hirsch told reporters. “Sometimes one side wins, sometimes the other side wins. But whatever the case is, it needs to be done fairly and with respect for the citizens of this state.”
The board was seated less than two weeks after the state Supreme Court reversed decisions by a former edition of the court that had struck down a 2018 voter ID law and U.S. House and state legislative seat boundaries approved by the General Assembly.
The 2024 elections will feature races for president, governor, the U.S. House and the legislature among others. The Supreme Court’s redistricting ruling also means the Republican-controlled General Assembly will again redraw legislative and congressional maps later this year.
The board itself has no role drawing maps. But carrying out elections under new boundaries requires the time and energy of state and county election officials to ensure that voters know which districts they live in and that ballots are printed to reflect those changes.
Litigation and new census figures mean candidates have run under different legislative district boundaries every cycle since 2016 and different congressional lines since 2018.
With the voter ID law now enforceable, the board has said work would begin to implement it starting with municipal elections later this year. A federal lawsuit challenging the mandate is still pending, however.
State law directs Cooper to appoint board members from a list of nominees provided by the state Democratic and Republican parties. No party can have more than three members on the board. Historically, the governor’s party has held the majority of board appointments. Lewis is a Rocky Mount attorney, while Millen is a former attorney from Raleigh who has been involved in nonprofits and voter registration efforts.
Cooper and the Republican legislative leaders fought in court for much of the governor’s first term over the board’s structure.
Hirsch, a former deputy state attorney general and policy adviser for then-Gov. Mike Easley in the 2000s, said it’s important that he and his colleagues avoid partisan acrimony to ensure an orderly election process.
“My hope is that both Republicans and Democrats on the board can agree as much as humanly possible so that we can provide that confidence in the election process that everybody really wants,” he said.
The new board also retained Karen Brinson Bell as executive director for another two years. Brinson Bell has been at the job since 2019, leading the board’s day-to-day operations and to assist boards in all 100 counties.
During Brinson Bell’s tenure, post-election controversies over vote counts and the voting process during the 2020 and 2022 elections were few and far between compared to other states. The 2020 elections played out over COVID-19 restrictions that led to a record number of mail-in absentee ballots being turned in by voters.