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In Partisan Vote, Elections Board Replaces Kim Strach As Executive Director

Kim Strach (left) is being replaced as the executive director of the NC Board of Elections

The North Carolina Board of Elections voted 3-2 Monday to name Karen Brinson Bell as the board’s new executive director, replacing Kim Strach.

Bell currently serves as a member of the Ranked Choice Voting Resource Center in Maryland.

She was also the elections director in Transylvania County in North Carolina for four years, and spent five years with the state Board of Elections Voting Systems Division.

She will start June 1.

Karen Brinson Bell was named the new executive director of the NC Board of Elections Monday, as of June 1
Karen Brinson Bell was named the new executive director of the NC Board of Elections Monday, as of June 1.

Strach — who will remain on the job through May 31 — has been the executive director at the elections board since 2013, and has worked in the office for nearly 20 years. She led the state’s investigation into absentee mail ballot fraud in Bladen County in the 9th Congressional District, which led to the current board calling for a new election.  

In the wake of the board’s vote, Joshua Lawson, the elections board attorney, said he is resigning. 

In his resignation letter, Lawson wrote that “This agency serves voters best when it chooses accountability over complacency, people over partisanship, and the future over our past. These serious times require nothing less, as you confront real and growing threats to elections security, public trust, and the democratic process.”

Strach was named executive director under an elections board appointed by former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory.

The current elections board of three Democrats and two Republicans was appointed by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.

The chair of the board, Democrat Robert Cordle of Davidson, said Strach had done a good job, but the board “needs to be focused on going forward.” 

Cordle said he had not spoken with Cooper or his staff about the change. He said Strach was a strong investigator, but said he felt the state needed better communication with local elections offices.

"Well I guess there’s some politics in everything on the state board because it’s involved with politics," Cordle said. "But that doesn’t mean this was a political decision. And you know, I don’t have anything bad to say about Kim, and I tried not to in there, and I spoke highly of her because I think highly of her."

Republican board member Ken Raymond questioned the proposal to replace Strach.

He said the reasons listed by Democratic board chair Robert Cordle aren’t “very compelling.”

"What’s the compelling reason for the change in management structure?" Raymond said. "The reasons you cited don’t sound very compelling to me. Everything sounds like it could be changed at the local level. For us to make a major change like this in the top management in the board of elections, we need a very, very compelling reason. And I just don’t see it."

David Black, the other Republican board member, said Strach had been fair in handling elections investigations, including the 9th District. He said replacing Strach will cause some North Carolinians to lose faith in the elections board.

Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.