The following op-ed was published in the News & Observer on March 23, 2018.
On Wednesday, Governor Roy Cooper chose Damon Circosta as the ninth and final member of the state’s new election board. His name was in nomination because the first eight members, four Republicans and four Democrats, had the power to decide which two names the governor could consider.
As chair of the state Libertarian Party, I congratulate Mr. Circosta for becoming the first formally independent voter ever to serve on that board. But I am left wondering: Is it fair to give only one seat in nine — 11 percent of the board — to a body of voters that makes up at least one-third of the electorate? Does it make sense to make the selection of that ninth member subject to the whims of the major parties’ operatives? A system that grants automatic dominance to the two historical “major” parties is an anachronism that leaves millions of voters out in the cold. Yet the idea that we’re governed by two parties is coded right into the official name of the “Bipartisan Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement.”
North Carolina politics is changing, and the power to decide how we elect our public officials should no longer be a spoil for Democrats and Republicans to divide between themselves. Since 1993, the percentage of registered Democrats in North Carolina has shrunk from 60 to 39, and Republicans have declined from 32 to 30 percent. Over the same period, independent or “unaffiliated” voters grew from 8 percent of the state’s electorate to 31 percent. Today independents actually outnumber registered Republicans by almost 60 thousand voters.
Libertarians represent one in every 200 voters in North Carolina today — marking a one-third increase since the start of the last presidential campaign — and we are growing fast now that the ballot-access situation has stabilized. Our neighbors in the Green Party have made strides as well, and should join us as a fully balloted party as soon as the new board gets around to recognizing them as required by law. Other parties will without doubt take root in North Carolina and enrich the political discussion and process. How does a “bipartisan” elections board make any sense in such an environment?
Our position is that a nine-member state election board should represent the electorate. With present numbers, it should include no more than three Republicans, no more than three Democrats, and at least three other members not chosen by those parties. Representation on county election boards should evolve in the same way.
Seat assignments on the state and local election boards are only one part of the problem. Running for office is an uneven playing field too. Thanks to years of hard work and considerable expense, the Libertarians now have a standing ballot line in North Carolina just like the Republicans and Democrats. If a Libertarian decides to run for office, he or she simply fills out a form, pays a filing fee, and is then a candidate. But an unaffiliated voter has to run for office twice, collecting signatures just to get on the ballot before the real campaigning begins. Our ballot access laws should reflect our new reality and let people from any party, or no party, follow the same process.
This is an issue for everyone. Not “bipartisan,” not even “nonpartisan,” just “North Carolinian.” My call to everyone running for office this year — from every party — is to embrace it as your issue. A government that speaks for all of us has to start with an electoral system that hears all of us.