The chair of the State Board of Elections abruptly resigned this week after telling an off-color joke in front of a large audience of election officials from across the state. According to WRAL reporters, Bob Cordle has a history of making inappropriate references.  Without having heard the joke, it’s hard to tell if it was worthy of a resignation or just the result of our increasingly offended society that demands harsh retribution for any indiscretion. 

Regardless, that leaves the Board without a chair. Governor Roy Cooper gets to make the appointment. It will be his fourth appointment of a chair in less than year. It’s time to find someone who will keep the job, take it seriously and can hit the floor running. 

Republican Rep. David Lewis and Republican Sen. Ralph Hise sent a letter to Cooper suggesting he nominate Gerry Cohen, a member of the Wake County Board of Elections, to replace Cordle. Cohen is an attorney who worked for decades in the legislature as a bill drafter and researcher. Since his retirement five years ago, he’s been a good government advocate who knows election law as well as almost anyone. He would be a fine choice and offers a rare opportunity for bi-partisanship. 

Cohen switched his registration from Democrat to unaffiliated a few years ago so he could be considered for an appointment to the board of elections. However, Cohen is a Democrat in the way he thinks and the people he supports. Cohen believes in an extended early voting period, vehemently opposes the extreme gerrymandering in the state and opposes voter suppression legislation in general. He’s also fair and a stickler for the rules. 

Right, we need to restore some trust in our election system. We’ve been battered by an electoral scandal that has shaken people’s confidence in the system. An independent, intellectual bureaucrat like Cohen is what we need right now. 

If Cooper appoints a hardcore partisan, Republicans will criticize almost any action and work to discredit the board. The support of Lewis and Hise, whose letter was almost certainly approved by Phil Berger and Tim Moore, makes GOP criticism of the board more difficult. Cohen may not be Cooper’s preferred choice but he would be a good one. Maybe Cohen’s appointment could even be part of a much broader compromise that got us a budget and more access to health care.  It could be the Cohen Grand Bargain.

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