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Commissioners expected to call for partisan School Board elections

If the Henderson County Board of Commissioners gets its way, the county School Board will switch from a nonpartisan to a partisan election.

Commissioners on their Wednesday morning agenda are expected to adopt a resolution calling on the General Assembly to make the change. The resolution says that 29 other school district are governed by school boards elected on a partisan basis. "Election clarity and transparency are of upmost importance to insure voters a basis for their decisions," the statement says. , "Identification of candidates’ party and/or ideological affiliation will provide voters with more information on the policies and positions such candidates support."

Once adopted, the resolution would be sent to the county's legislative delegation, all Republicans, who would be asked to file a bill to achieve the switch in time for the 2024 elections, when four seats on the seven-member board are up for re-election. Given the county's overwhelming GOP tilt, the change could ensure an all-Republican School Board. Like the Board of Commissioners, the county's elected sheriff, register of deeds, clerk of superior court and district and superior court judges are all Republicans. Republican activists have had success in recent elections as well pushing Republican candidates for the School Board by working the polls and handing out palm cards that endorsed Republican candidates on the nonpartisan ballot.

In the November general election, Republicans swept three seats when Jay Egolf won re-election and newcomers Alyssa Norman and Sheila Dale were elected. Dot Case, registered as unaffiliated, lost her re-election bid. The current board is made up of five Republicans, chair Blair Craven, a former Republican who is now unaffiliated, and one Democrat, Stacey Caskey.

Not everyone was in favor of the change. Several voters pointed out in messages to the Lightning that as a consent agenda item the resolution would not be subject to board discussion and that Wednesday's meeting is a budget retreat with no time set aside for public comment.

"If passed, this is just another way to dumb down the voters," voter Lois Van Reese said in an email. "I have worked for several cycles at the Board of Elections offering curbside voting for our residents.  This is a wonderful service offered by our Board of Elections. Many times voters have signaled me over to ask me which school board candidates are Republicans. Of course I did not and would not (even if I knew) give them that information. But the fact that citizens want to vote solely by party affiliation demonstrates how ill informed we are as a voting block. I’m urging the commissioners to not allow this partisan move. The voters should do their research before coming to the polls and cast their vote based on the candidate’s credentials and commitment to serve the public."