The State Board of Elections on Friday ousted a member of the Beaufort County Board of Elections after ruling that he violated state law by openly supporting Republican U.S. Senate candidate Greg Brannon at a local tea party meeting in October. In doing so, the five-member, Republican-controlled state board made it clear that it wouldn’t take it lightly when county board members publicly practice partisan politics. Bob Hall, executive director of the election reform group Democracy North Carolina, lauded the decision, saying he believed the state board members were taking seriously their responsibility to monitor the political activities of local board members, who are charged with overseeing elections. “By their action, they’re sending a signal to the local board members that they need to obey the law, and the law is quite clear about not publicly endorsing or advocating for candidates,” Hall said.
Hall said it is important for local board members to remain independent and impartial in the public’s eye, as they may have to adjudicate an election protest involving a candidate. “And the public won’t believe they’re independent if they’ve already come out in favor of that candidate’s election, so it’s just a real conflict when you stake yourself out in the public,” he said.
Specifically, state law prohibits boards of elections members from making “written or oral statements intended for general distribution or dissemination to the public at large supporting or opposing the nomination or election of a candidate for public office.” The law goes on to say that, “Individual expressions of opinion, support, or opposition not intended for general public distribution” are allowed.