Wake elections board violates law in naming new chair

Posted September 29
Updated October 2

Wake County Board of Elections member Eddie Woodhouse

— State officials told the Wake County Board of Elections on Friday that it inadvertently violated a new law this week when it elected a new chairman.

On Tuesday, the board named Republican Eddie Woodhouse as chairman, succeeding Republican Ellis Boyle, who resigned his seat on the board. But under a law passed in April over Gov. Roy Cooper's veto, the chairmanship should have gone to Mark Ezzell, the lone Democrat on the board.

"Until the litigation runs its course, we were instructed to continue on as we are," with a Republican in charge, Woodhouse said Friday before the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement informed him of the mistake.

The new law overhauls state and county election boards, creating an eight-member state board and four-member county boards split evenly between Democrats and Republicans. Traditionally, the five-member state board and the three-member county boards have had majorities that reflected the party of the governor.

Cooper has challenged the state-level provisions of the law, arguing that it will create a dysfunctional system in which the state board is repeatedly deadlocked when deciding issues such as when and where early voting will be conducted statewide. The lawsuit is pending before the state Supreme Court.

But the provisions of the law that apply to counties are in effect, according to the state board, including one that states "the chair shall be a member of the political party with the highest number of registered affiliates" in odd-number years. Democrats hold the edge over Republicans among registered voters, so the chairman of the county elections board for 2017 should be a Democrat.

Because of the legal wrangling over law, county boards have been allowed to continue operations with at least two members – new boards usually take office in July – but because the Wake County board chose to elect a new chairman, it needed to abide by the new law, state officials said.

Upon learning of the state board's position, Woodhouse said the county board "will certainly follow the directive." A cousin of North Carolina Republican Party Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse, he said he and Ezzell are committed to working together in a nonpartisan manner.

"The citizens expect us to operate in a nonpartisan fashion," he said. "We've done that all along and will continue to do so."


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