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Strach dismissal shows worst in party politics

Election 2018 North Carolina-6

Kim Westbrook Strach, left, executive director of the Bipartisan State Board of Elections & Ethics Enforcement, questions a witness on Feb. 19, 2019.

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Monday, May 20, 2019

Kim Strach, the executive director of the state Board of Elections, was doing a good job before she got fired Monday. She’d helped guide the board through the minefield of the 9th Congressional District election fraud scandal. She’d offered strong suggestions to lawmakers about preventing future fraud, and some of those recommendations became part of a truly bi-partisan N.C. House bill.

So why did Strach get shown the door? It’s because she is not a Democrat and the Board of Elections is majority Democrat. It’s legal. It’s happened before. And it’s wrong.

The firing happened at a meeting Monday that told NC voters all the wrong things about the people in charge of their elections. It told them that party matters, not fairness. It told them that politics rule, not effectiveness. Strach, who has led the Board since 2013, was replaced by Democrat Karen Brinson Bell in a 3-2 vote that split along party lines. Why? Board chair Robert Cordle explained unconvincingly that Brinson Bell’s background fit the board’s need to focus on training local election officials for the 2020 election, something that surely brought a smirk to the many veteran local election directors across the state.

A more persuasive argument might have been that Strach’s dismissal is a part of the ordinary transfer of power, that the spoils of winning (in this case, Gov. Roy Cooper’s victory) includes having some say over who runs things. Republicans exercise that power, too, including when Strach got her job in 2013 after Gov. Pat McCrory took office.

Instead, Democrats on Monday launched an ugly attempt at character assassination, with N.C. Democratic Party chair Wayne Goodwin accusing Strach, who is an unaffiliated voter, of protecting Republicans “for nearly two decades.” The reality is that Strach and the board under her have vigorously pursued both Democrats and Republicans, most recently when she resisted Republican calls to leave Mark Harris alone in the 9th District. Even Cordle, the Democratic board chair, said Monday that Strach had done an excellent job for the state.

Among Strach’s other offenses, according to Goodwin? She is married to Phil Strach, an attorney who regularly represents the Republican-led legislature in court cases, some of which involved election law issues. It was an absurd and sad public moment for Goodwin, a long-time state servant, and it speaks to precisely why Strach’s firing was wrong.

For years, N.C. Republicans have tried to use legislation involving voting and elections — including the composition of elections boards — to hold and tighten their grip on power. For years, Democrats have decried such tainting of elections with politics.

Strach, meanwhile, has done her job the way any party should want it done. That includes with the 9th District scandal, which was a jarring reminder that elections boards from the county level to Raleigh should be free from politics, and that North Carolinians should have the confidence that the people who rule on election disputes do so without partisan considerations.

If there ever was a moment not to replace an elections director because of party, it was now. The Democrats did so anyway Monday, and they justified it in the worst possible way. It was unseemly and hypocritical. It was politics.

The Charlotte Observer

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Kim Strach, the executive director of the state Board of Elections, was doing a good job before she got fired Monday. She’d helped guide the board through the minefield of the 9th Congressional District election fraud scandal. She’d offered strong suggestions to lawmakers about…

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