Cooper seeks court order blocking elections board changes

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  • Gov. Roy Cooper seeks a temporary restraining order to block a law changing the composition of the State Board of Elections.
  • Senate Bill 749 replaces the current five-member elections board, with a 3-2 Democratic majority. The new eight-member board would feature four members from each major political party.
  • Changes are scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1.

Gov. Roy Cooper is seeking a temporary restraining order to block changes to the membership of the State Board of Elections. Those changes are scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1. Legislative leaders from both parties would appoint members to an eight-person board split evenly between Democrats and Republicans.

Cooper’s lawyers filed paperwork Monday in Wake County Superior Court seeking the temporary order in a case titled Cooper v. Berger.

“These changes will cause immediate and irreparable injury, loss, or damage to the Governor if allowed to take effect,” according to the motion.

Cooper asks a single Superior Court judge to address the request before the case heads to a three-judge panel. His lawyers argued, “This Court has jurisdiction to resolve this motion.”

A three-judge panel granted Cooper an injunction last week in a separate case also named Cooper v. Berger. In that dispute, the governor challenged changes in appointment authority for seven state boards and commissions. Judges agreed to block changes to three boards: the Economic Investment Committee, Commission for Public Health, and Board of Transportation.

In the elections board lawsuit, filed on Oct. 17, Cooper challenges Senate Bill 749.

The governor argues the new eight-member board created by that bill “would gridlock North Carolina elections and violate the separation of powers,” according to a news release from Cooper’s office.

Local elections boards also would be split evenly between the two major parties. Under current law, the governor’s party holds a majority of seats on state and county elections boards.

“The deadlocks that will be created on these new Boards of Elections at the state and local levels likely will reduce early voting and create longer lines at the polls,” Cooper said in the news release. “It will also undermine fair elections and faith in our democracy by sending disputes to our highly partisan legislature and courts. Both the Courts and the people have rejected this bad idea and the meaning of our Constitution doesn’t change just because the Supreme Court has new Justices. The Supreme Court should accept the clear precedent and the clear voice of the people and reject the Legislature’s latest attempt to control the election process.”

The state Supreme Court rejected lawmakers’ previous attempt to create a bipartisan elections board in 2018. Voters defeated a constitutional amendment that year addressing the same issue.

Cooper’s complaint targets Senate Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland. The suit says legislative leaders ignored state Supreme Court decisions that “reaffirmed the separation of powers as a foundational principle of our state government.”

“Showing flagrant disregard for these constitutional principles, the North Carolina General Assembly takes direct aim at established precedents and once again seeks to significantly interfere with the Governor’s constitutionally assigned executive branch duty of election law enforcement and to take much of that power for itself,” Cooper’s lawyers wrote.

“Like Gollum reaching for the One Ring, Legislative Defendants are possessed by the power it brings,” the complaint continued. “When it comes to seizing control of the enforcement of the State’s election laws, neither the clear rulings of the Supreme Court, nor the overwhelming vote of the people, will deter them.”

“To be clear, nothing has changed since the last time Legislative Defendants tried — and failed — to cripple the State Board of Elections, except, of course, the composition of the Supreme Court,” Cooper’s lawyers wrote. “But Defendants Berger and Moore hope that is enough — that the new Court will discard the principle of stare decisis to give Legislative Defendants what they so desperately want.”

Democrats held a 4-3 majority on the state Supreme Court in 2018. After building that majority to 6-1 in 2019, Republican sweeps of statewide judicial races in the last two election cycles have produced a 5-2 GOP majority on the state’s highest court.