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Partisan Voting Bill Was Tabled; Now it's Back
A Sneaky Second Attempt at Partisan School Board Elections
May 11, 2023

fter public outcry and calls to Representative Keith Kidwell and Senator Norman Sanderson’s offices in March and April, a bill that would make the Pamlico County Board of Elections partisan was tabled. Residents found out it had been tabled on May 5, and had been celebrating.

On Tuesday, May 9, the bill had been formerly withdrawn.

On Wednesday, May 10, that bill appeared in a new form: as an amendment, slipped into House Bill 66 at the last minute during a Senate Redistricting and Elections Committee hearing.
Senator Norman Sanderson
Senator Norman Sanderson
House Bill 66 is for partisan school board elections in Catawba County – a county on the other side of the state.

Senator Norman Sanderson sits on that committee, and though his name does not appear on the amendment, he was asked for his input. Sanderson is very aware of how his constituents feel about partisan School Board elections in Pamlico County, but said simply that it was “brought by resolution from the County Board of Commissioners.”

The bill passed and has moved on to the Committee for Rules and Operations of the Senate.

A Concise History
In April, Pamlico County residents spoke out against a resolution to make the School Board elections partisan. The resolution was passed in a 4-3 vote by County Commissioners in November of 2022, and a resolution sent to Senator Sanderson asking him to make the change.

The vote to change the elections was done without public input, during the second Commissioner meeting of the month when public comments are not taken, and without consulting members of the Board of Education.

The resolution became House Bill 179 (HB 179) sponsored by Representative Keith Kidwell. While giving testimony about the bill to his Committee, Kidwell misrepresented the Commissioners’ vote as ‘unanimous’, saying he had received only one call against the change in election format.

It then went to the Senate (as Senate Bill 286) where – after the public backlash at a packed March County Commissioner’s meeting – SB 286 was sent back to the Rules, Calendar and Operations of the House Committee.

A Bill Briefly Tabled
Diane Lemieux, who first mentioned Kidwell’s false statements during that packed March meeting, said she had met with Kidwell’s assistant in Raleigh during Lobby Day in April. His assistant told her the bill “was sent back to the House Rules Committee where it will stay.” And currently, SB 286 is listed as still being in that Committee.

However, on Tuesday, May 9, the original bill – House Bill 179 – was withdrawn from the Committee On Rules and Operations of the Senate.

It was then sent to the Senate Redistricting and Elections Committee.

Revival Under Cover
On Wednesday, May 10, in the Senate Redistricting and Elections Committee, there was no mention of HB 179.

But there was an amendment added to House Bill 66 – a local bill to change the county and city School Board elections of Catawba County, on the other side of the state, from nonpartisan to partisan – to make Pamlico County School Board Elections partisan.

The Pamlico amendment was done at the last minute, at the end of the meeting. And introduced by Senator Newton of Cabarrus County.

Both Catawba and Cabarrus are far from Pamlico County, closer to Mecklenburg than Craven or Carteret.

What follows is a transcript of the amendment discussion:

Chair: All right, Senator Newton is recognized for a motion.

Newton: Thank you. Mr. Chairman, do you have the amendment that I would like staff to explain to the committee?

Chair: All right. For the members, the amendment is House 66 AST 57, version two. You should have a copy of that. Would staff explain the amendment?

Staff: Yes, sir. The amendment would change the method of election for the Pamlico County Board of Education from nonpartisan to partisan. All would be effective with the 2024 elections.

Chair: And Senator Sanderson, do you want to be recognized to discuss that?

Sanderson: That’s exactly what it does. Thank you.

Chair: All right. So any discussion on the amendment? Senator Marcus?

Marcus: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I see we’re bringing in a new county that will be impacted. Have they been notified? I’m just hearing of it. Have the local folks in Pamlico County been warned that they’re about to have to change the way they do elections for their school board?

Chair: Senator Sanderson?

Sanderson: It was brought to me by resolution from the County Board of Commissioners, and I believe we already passed this out of the Senate in a different vehicle. Yes.

Chair: All right, so I have a motion from Senator Newton to amend the bill. All in favor say aye. All opposed? No. The ayes have it.

Before this, residents of Pamlico County called the offices of both Sanderson and Kidwell to tell them they didn’t want partisan school board elections – it was the reason given to Lemieux by Kidwell’s assistant for the tabling of the original bill – HB 179.

Senator Norman Sanderson is a member of the Senate Redistricting and Elections Committee where this amendment was added. He did not give voice to the calls he received – either for or against – the bill.

Instead, Sanderson gave a non-answer to Senator Marcus’ questions. While technically correct – residents were notified about HB 179 and SB 286 leading to the public outcry over the bills – they were never notified about the amendment to HB 66, nor were they given an opportunity to comment on it.

There are now three bills in the General Assembly pushing for partisan elections for the Pamlico County School Board: HB 179, SB 286, and now HB 66.

If you’re concerned about the outcome, the contact information for Senator Sanderson and Representative Kidwell’s offices is below. It may also be of use to reach out to the members of the Committee for Rules and Operations of the Senate – where HB 66 is headed next.

Senator Norman Sanderson represents Pamlico County in the North Carolina Senate. Senator Sanderson’s office can be reached at 919-733-5706. His email is norman.sanderson@ncleg.gov

Representative Keith Kidwell represents Pamlico County in the North Carolina House of Representatives. His office can be reached at 919-733-5881. His email is keith.kidwell@ncleg.gov.

Related Links
• Amendment & Analysis to add Pamlico County to House Bill 66
House Bill 66 with the Pamlico County Amendment
• Rules and Operations of the Senate Committee
Representative Kidwell Tells a Whopper (with audio)
Public Speaks Out Against Partisan School Board Elections

Posted Thursday May 11, 2023 by Allison DeWeese

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