Duplin County native to lead state elections board

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The N.C. State Board of Elections on Monday appointed a Duplin County native as the Board’s executive director, the chief state elections official, effective June 1.

Karen Brinson Bell, who grew up in Kenansville, has more than 13 years of elections administration experience, according to a release from the Board. Bell will replace Kim Westbrook Strach, who has served as executive director since 2013.

Bell will oversee about 70 State Board employees. The Raleigh-based Board of Elections is charged with administering elections and overseeing 100 county boards of elections, as well as campaign finance disclosure and compliance.

Bell’s first day on the job will be June 3, and her two-year term will expire in May 2021. Strach will remain in the position through May 31 to ensure continuity during the transition, according to the release.

“Our top priorities will be promoting voter confidence in elections and assisting the 100 county boards, the boots on the ground in every election,” Bell said. “I plan to roll up my sleeves and work with State Board staff to prepare for the important elections ahead.”

Bell has spent most of her career in elections administration. From March 2011 to March 2015, she served as director for the Transylvania County Board of Elections in Brevard, North Carolina. Prior to that, she worked for five years as a district elections technician for the State Board of Elections, where she supported 12 county boards in western North Carolina in nearly all facets of elections.

Most recently, Bell was deputy director of the Ranked Choice Voting Resource Center, an organization specializing in ranked choice voting, in which voters rank candidates in order of preference. In that role, she assisted elections administrators on a national level, providing expert testimony and educational tools for conducting elections using that method.

During her work with the State Board, Bell helped administer instant runoff elections, a type of ranked choice voting, for the city of Hendersonville in 2007 and 2009, a District Court IRV election in 2010 and a statewide IRV election for a North Carolina Court of Appeals seat in 2010.

Bell, 44, graduated from the University of North Carolina at Asheville with a double major in mass communication and political science in 1996. She is married to Gaston County native Patrick Bell. They have a rescue dog, Patriot.

State Board Chair Bob Cordle said he hoped the change would refocus the agency’s attention on elections administration and supporting the county boards.

“I believe with Karen Brinson Bell we found someone with the experience, skill and expertise needed to make sure that our elections are run as smoothly and efficiently as possible,” Cordle said. “We’re excited to have Karen leading that effort and are confident in her leadership.”

Cordle praised Strach for leading the agency through a tumultuous period, including long stints without a seated Board because of lawsuits challenging the Board’s makeup.

Strach spent nearly two decades at the State Board, working her way up to chief investigator before being named executive director in 2013. She helped lead the recent investigation into absentee ballot irregularities in the 9th Congressional District, which culminated in a new election.

Cordle thanked Strach for her service to the State Board and North Carolina voters.

“We appreciate your willingness to serve until the end of May, and wish you the best of luck going forward,” he said.

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