Gov. Cooper: Judges got it wrong on elections board ruling
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A three-judge panel should strike down in its entirety a law that combines North Carolina state elections and ethics duties into one agency, attorneys for Gov. Roy Cooper said Tuesday.
The Democratic governor’s legal motions came a day after a the panel determined that a state Supreme Court ruling issued in January only required them to throw out a small portion of the law.
That provision envisioned an eight-member board — Democrats and four Republicans — that Cooper would appoint from lists provided by party leaders. The provisions of the law the judges decided could remain intact, according to the motions, include keeping the current executive director at her job until at least next year, and directing Republicans to serve as chairmen of county elections boards this year.
The attorneys asked the court’s justices to intervene quickly and void the entire law approved last April by GOP lawmakers, because a new law changing it is about to take effect.
The author of the Supreme Court’s majority opinion wrote that the provisions concerning board membership and appointments, “taken in context with the other provisions of that legislation,” are unconstitutional. But Daniel Smith, one of Cooper’s private-sector attorneys, argued Associate Justice Sam Ervin also referred to the “totality of the circumstances” and the “totality of the limitations” imposed on Cooper’s authority.
Cooper wants an elections board the way it was before December 2016, in which a majority of seats are held by members of the governor’s party.
“This system has worked for decades and it is the responsibility of the governor to make sure that elections are administered properly,” Cooper told reporters earlier Tuesday after a meeting. “That’s what the Supreme Court’s held.”
Another law passed by the GOP-dominated General Assembly last month, which tweaked the challenged law, is supposed to take effect March 16. It would create a ninth board member — either a registered unaffiliated or third-party voter. Cooper also could remove any member at any time.
Cooper said that doesn’t fix the problem, and another of his lawyers already has indicated that the governor plans to sue over it. Cooper, however, is letting the bill with the changes become law without his signature because it contained other unrelated public school and pre-kindergarten funding provisions he wanted.
Smith told the justices that Cooper and GOP lawmakers “must have clarity regarding the scope of this court’s invalidation of the challenged portions” of the law before the changes take effect.
On Monday, Republican legislators praised the three-judge panel’s ruling and urged Cooper not to sue again.