A three-judge Superior Court panel on Tuesday reaffirmed its decision to toss out Gov. Roy Cooper’s lawsuit against the legislature over legislation to combine the state bodies overseeing ethics and elections.
Cooper took the issue to the courts after his veto on the legislation was overturned by the General Assembly.
Though the Superior Court judges reaffirmed their decision, the case is not decided in that the effort was completed at the request of the state Supreme Court as it considers Cooper’s appeal on the constitutionality of the law.
The Bipartisan State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement was originally passed under Gov. Pat McCrory on his way out of office but the law was shot down in the courts over appointment powers that rested with the legislature.
The updated law fixed the issue by giving appointment powers to the governor, but Cooper still vetoed the legislation, and then challenged it in court after his veto was overridden.
The new law did not go into effect after Cooper’s veto was overridden, however, due to a temporary restraining order put in place by the courts blocking the provisions in SB68 from taking effect.
Under the bill, the governor would name all of the appointments to the newly formed board. They would be chosen from a list of nominees submitted by the heads of the two political parties with the highest number of registered voters in the state.
The board would no longer be comprised of Republicans and Democrats out of balance in power, with the governor’s party having the advantage, but would be made up of an equal number of Democrats and Republicans.
This change would also apply to the county boards of elections.
Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) and House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) issued a joint statement on the decision saying, “We appreciate the court’s thoughtful and well-reasoned decision rejecting Roy Cooper’s attempts to drag his political battles into the courtroom, and we encourage him to abandon taxpayer-funded lawsuits and follow the bipartisan elections and ethics board law.”
Cooper called the bill unconstitutional when he vetoed it and said that it would make it harder for people to vote in the state, pointing to potential disagreements between Republicans and Democrats on local and state elections decisions.
In a statement released with his veto he said, “This is the same unconstitutional legislation in another package, and it’s an attempt to make it harder for people to register and vote. Changing the State Board of Elections to a 4-4 partisan split and local county board of elections to a 2-2 partisan split will result in deadlocked votes. It’s a scheme to ensure that Republicans control state and county boards of elections in presidential election years when the most races are on the ballot. The North Carolina Republican Party has a track record of trying to influence Board of Elections members to make it harder for people to vote and have fair elections. Under this bill, that same party controls the pool of appointments of half the state and county elections boards. I urge legislators to set the right priorities for North Carolina and stop electoral manipulation, which, like gerrymandering, is what’s wrong with politics.”
While the Superior Court announcement is encouraging to the legislature it does not mean that the law could not still be overturned, leaving ethics and elections enforcement in the state in limbo.