NC Governor Sues to Stop Elections Board Overhaul

(CN) – Democratic North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper sued state lawmakers on Wednesday, seeking to block a new law that limits his powers by merging the state board of elections and ethics commission.

Earlier in the week, the Republican-led Legislature overrode Cooper’s veto of the law, which creates a single election board evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats. County election boards would follow the same system. Under current law, the five-member state elections board has a partisan majority matching the governor’s party.

“This General Assembly’s continued, direct attacks on executive authority unconstitutionally infringe on the governor’s executive powers in violation of separation of powers and improperly delegate legislative power without adequate guiding standards,” according to the complaint filed in Wake County Superior Court.

This is the second time Gov. Cooper has used the courts to respond to alleged overreach by the legislature.

Last month, a three-judge panel in Wake County declared similar legislation targeting the state elections board unconstitutional. Senate Bill 68 is lawmakers’ response.

Cooper’s complaint asks the court for a restraining order and temporary injunction to prevent the law from taking effect on May 1.

In addition to a separation of powers dispute, the lawsuit also argues SB 68 will deadlock state and county election boards on important issues such as the number of early voting days and sites.

“[SB 68 is] 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,” Cooper said in a statement after vetoing the bill last week. “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.”

On his website, Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, defended the law and lashed Cooper for filing the suit.

“Even though the legislature disagreed with the three-judge panel’s ruling, we respected the court and fully complied with their order by ensuring the governor will make all appointments to the bipartisan ethics and elections board,” said Berger, who is named in Cooper’s lawsuit along with House Speaker Tim Moore. “It is outrageous for Gov. Cooper to now ask the very same judges to block the modified board that met their requirements to the letter, simply because he wants total control of ethics and elections oversight. It would be a disgrace if these judges allowed themselves to become the governor’s political pawns and failed to respect the legislature’s constitutional authority to make laws.”

This is just the latest fight between Cooper, former attorney general and state senator, and Republican lawmakers.

The Legislature has tried to shape North Carolina’s judiciary by moving to limit appeals court judges.

State Republicans also pushed a bill to hold review hearings on the governor’s cabinet appointments, but a judge blocked that effort in February.

Cooper is represented by Jim Phillips of the Greensboro-based firm Brooks, Pierce, McLendon, Humphrey & Leonard.

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