The General Assembly has tried to limit Gov. Roy Cooper’s powers yet again, this time trying to split the State Elections Board evenly between Democrats and Republicans and allow Republicans to lead the board during election years. Gov. Cooper went to court stating this new law prevented him from exercising his constitutional powers. The judges ruled in favor of Gov. Cooper, stating the law the power-grabbing General Assembly passed was a violation of the Constitution’s separation of powers.
The panel of judges decided that the December law violated the state constitution’s separation of powers. So Republicans passed an updated measure to address some of the panel’s objections. Lawmakers this week overrode Cooper’s veto of the amended law and Cooper sued.
Hours before the judicial panel temporarily blocked the new law, the chief lawyer for House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger dispensed quickly with debates over whether the changes focused on improving governance.
The dispute is “a partisan political battle masquerading as a separation of powers case,” attorney Noah Huffstetler said, urging the judges not to intervene. “The governor’s action in seeking to block … the statute before you today makes it absolutely clear that is the case.”
The previous and current versions of the elections board revamp take away Cooper’s authority to pick the majority of the five-member statewide elections board. That state board selects the members of the three-member local elections boards in all 100 counties. GOP legislators now want to divide the elections boards equally between Democrats and Republicans, with Cooper picking elections board members from lists of candidates compiled by the two major parties.
But a Republican would head the decision-making state board in presidential election years when most people vote and ballot disputes are hottest. The current Republican executive with day-to-day control couldn’t be replaced for at least two years, perhaps indefinitely if the board devolves into partisan deadlocks as the Federal Elections Commission has done for years, Cooper attorney Jim Phillips Jr. said.
GOP lawmakers said since Cooper ultimately picks elections board members from the candidates the parties offer, the law respects the state constitution’s separation of powers requirement and the judicial panel’s previous ruling.