Gov. Roy Cooper has vetoed a bill to delay North Carolina’s primary election by three weeks. It represents Cooper’s first veto this year and the record-extending 70th veto of his tenure as governor.
House Bill 605 would have pushed the primary election date back from May 17 to June 7. It also would have moved the starting date for candidate filing back from Feb. 24 to March 24.
“This bill is an additional attempt by Republican legislators to control the election timeline and undermine the voting process,” Cooper said in a prepared statement. “The constitutionality of congressional and legislative districts is now in the hands of the North Carolina Supreme Court and the Court should have the opportunity to decide how much time is needed to ensure that our elections are constitutional.”
The veto prompted a quick response from Republican legislative leaders. “This common-sense legislation alleviated an unnecessarily constricted timeline for candidate filing and initiating the election process,” said Sen. Warren Daniel, R-Burke, a co-chairman of the Senate’s redistricting committee. “It also made necessary changes to the municipal election timeline requested by the State Board of Elections. The party-line vote on House Bill 605 and Gov. Cooper’s veto lay bare what redistricting litigation really is — nothing more than a pure political power play.”
Cooper’s veto arrives exactly one week after he and state Attorney General Josh Stein filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the state Supreme Court. That brief was tied to the redistricting case that prompted H.B. 605. The case already has delayed primary elections statewide from March to May.
In their brief, Cooper and Stein, both Democrats, called for the state Supreme Court to throw out new state congressional and legislative election maps. The governor and attorney general also suggested that the court could decide on its own to delay primary elections again.
The brief did not reference the General Assembly’s bill to delay elections. Meanwhile, Friday’s veto message made no mention of the governor’s recommendation that the state’s highest court consider delaying elections without legislative input.
Lawmakers approved H.B. 605 on Jan. 19 with a 26-17 vote in the state Senate and a 69-50 vote in the House. Republicans cast every “yes” vote, while every “no” vote came from Democrats.
Supporters of the measure argued that the delayed primary and candidate filing period would ensure that the General Assembly has time to redraw election maps. If the Supreme Court rejects the maps, state law requires justices to give lawmakers at least two weeks to draw new election districts.
Cooper and Stein’s brief labels that provision of state law a “request.” Cooper and Stein suggest that the state Supreme Court “could” give lawmakers a chance to redraw maps, but only “if there is sufficient time to do so.”
Republicans would need support from two Democrats in the Senate and three in the House to secure enough votes to override Cooper’s veto. The General Assembly has not conducted a successful veto override vote since December 2018. Prior to Friday’s action, 41 consecutive Cooper vetoes had been sustained.
The latest veto arrives five days before the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the redistricting case. Observers expect a ruling within weeks, perhaps days, after that hearing.