Common Cause & NC residents file lawsuit to let unaffiliated voters serve on State Board of Elections

RALEIGH – The largest group of registered voters in North Carolina are not affiliated with any political party, surpassing both Democrats and Republicans in numbers. However, current law bars the more than 2.5 million unaffiliated voters from having representation on the State Board of Elections, which makes important decisions about voting and elections in the state.

A lawsuit filed today in federal court by Common Cause North Carolina and a group of unaffiliated voters seeks to end that unconstitutional prohibition.

Under current law, members of the State Board of Elections must belong to either of the two political parties with the highest number of registered voters in North Carolina. That means only Democrats and Republicans are given a seat on the board, even though the number of unaffiliated voters statewide tops both of those parties.

Nearly 2.6 million, or 35 percent, of the state’s 7.3 million registered voters are unaffiliated. Close to 2.5 million voters (34 percent) are registered Democrats and 2.2 million voters (30 percent) are registered Republicans, according to data from North Carolina’s elections board.

The lawsuit – Common Cause v. Moore – argues that the current system discriminates against unaffiliated voters by prohibiting their service on the State Board of Elections, which is a violation of their constitutional rights of free speech, freedom of association and equal protection.

“North Carolinians shouldn’t be forced to join a political party in order to serve the public. Barring unaffiliated voters – who are North Carolina’s biggest group of voters – from being members of the State Board of Elections is profoundly unfair and clearly discriminatory,” said Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause North Carolina. “It’s important that the State Board of Elections reflects the people of North Carolina, including the nearly 2.6 million voters who choose not to join any party. Unaffiliated voters deserve a seat at the table in the administration of our state’s elections.”

The lawsuit was filed in the federal U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina by attorneys Eddie Speas of Poyner Spruill and Michael Crowell representing plaintiffs in the case.

As the complaint lays out, the laws excluding unaffiliated voters as members on the state board serve no valid purpose. Instead, they are just a means to entrench the Democratic and Republican parties in power and give them sole control over the administration of North Carolina’s elections system.

These laws are ill-conceived because they render ineligible a large pool of talented people from service on the state board.

The growth in unaffiliated registration is only likely to accelerate as young people come of age to vote. As of this April, 42 percent of North Carolina voters aged 25-40 were registered as unaffiliated, and 47 percent of those under 25.

At 26 years old, Tyler Daye is one of the many younger voters who have chosen to register as unaffiliated. He is among the individual plaintiffs in the lawsuit seeking to give unaffiliated voters representation on the State Board of Elections.

As an outreach and engagement organizer with Common Cause North Carolina, Daye is actively involved in nonpartisan efforts to encourage voter participation. He also has a deep interest in the state’s election system and was appointed by the Guilford County Board of Elections to serve as chief judge of a voting precinct this year.

But like other unaffiliated voters, Daye is barred under current law from serving on the State Board of Elections, simply because he’s not registered with a political party.

“I was a member of a political party when I first registered to vote at 18. But since then, I decided to be unaffiliated because I feel partisanship has caused extreme polarization and tension in today’s world,” Daye said. “Oversight of our election system shouldn’t be the exclusive realm of just Republicans and Democrats. Unaffiliated voters also deserve a chance to serve and we should have a voice on the State Board of Elections.”

The other unaffiliated voters who are plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Elizabeth Smith of Wake County, a school librarian; Seth Effron of Beaufort County, a journalist; and Dr. James Horton of Mecklenburg County, a physician.

The full complaint from Common Cause North Carolina and the group of unaffiliated voters can be read here.

Common Cause NC is a nonpartisan, grassroots organization dedicated to upholding the core values of American democracy.

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