GOP legislative leaders try to block lawsuit that would allow unaffiliated voters to serve on State Board of Elections
RALEIGH – Republican legislative leaders do not want to allow unaffiliated voters to serve on the State Board of Elections, as shown by their attempt to block a lawsuit seeking representation for unaffiliated voters on the board.
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 deprives 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.
Republican legislative leaders want to keep that unjust prohibition in place. Earlier this month, they asked a federal court to dismiss Common Cause v. Moore, a lawsuit seeking to allow unaffiliated voters to serve on the Board of Elections. Plaintiffs in the case have until March 31 to file a brief in response.
Common Cause and a group of unaffiliated North Carolina voters filed the lawsuit in August, arguing 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 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 wrong for politicians of any party to block our state’s 2.5 million unaffiliated voters from having a seat at the table in the administration of elections.”
Republican legislative leaders disagree, claiming that only registered Republicans or Democrats should be able to serve on the State Board of Elections. They are asking the federal court to dismiss the case and keep in place the unequal restrictions on unaffiliated voters.
Common Cause and the other plaintiffs in the case argue that excluding unaffiliated voters as members on the State Board of Elections serves no valid purpose. Instead, the prohibition is a means to entrench the Democratic and Republican parties in power and give them sole control over the administration of North Carolina’s election system. The ban is ill-conceived because it renders ineligible a large pool of talented and able citizens from service on the state board.
The growth in unaffiliated registration is likely to only accelerate as young people come of age to vote. As of last April, 42 percent of North Carolina voters aged 25-40 were registered as unaffiliated, and 47 percent of those under 25.
At 27 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 the Policy and Civic Engagement Manager 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 in 2022.
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.
“Oversight of our election system shouldn’t be the exclusive realm of just Republicans and Democrats,” Daye said. “Unaffiliated voters also deserve a chance to serve and we should have a voice on the State Board of Elections.”
Currently, 2.5 million (35 percent) of North Carolina’s 7.2 million registered voters are unaffiliated. Meanwhile, 2.4 million voters (33 percent) are registered Democrats and 2.1 million voters (30 percent) are registered Republicans, according to data from the State Board of Elections.
The case of Common Cause v. Moore is filed with the federal U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina. A hearing in the case has not yet been scheduled. Common Cause and the other plaintiffs have until March 31 to file a brief in response to the legislative defendants’ motion to dismiss.
The original complaint filed by Common Cause and the other plaintiffs in August 2022 can be read here.
Common Cause North Carolina is a nonpartisan grassroots organization dedicated to upholding the core values of American democracy. We work to create open, honest and accountable government that serves the public interest; promote equal rights, opportunity and representation for all; and empower all people to make their voices heard in the political process.