Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens issued a temporary restraining order on Friday preventing a revamp of the State Board of Elections enacted earlier this month from taking effect. Gov.-elect Roy Cooper charged that the new law violates separation of powers.
Under Senate Bill 4, the State Board of Elections and the Ethics Commission were merged into the Bipartisan State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement. The composition of state and county elections boards will have an equal number of Republican and Democratic members, but it would require six of eight votes by the state board to overturn an election or issue subpoenas, and ties in county boards could be broken by the chairman — who would be a Republican in even-numbered years (when most elections occur) and a Democrat in odd-numbered years.
Additionally, half of the state board’s eight members would be appointed by General Assembly leaders. Under current law, the governor names three of the five members of the State Board of Elections.
Attorneys representing the state said Stephens did not have authority to block the law, which normally would go to a three-judge panel appointed by the chief justice of the Supreme Court. Stephens noted that the law was set to take effect Sunday, and said he would notify Chief Justice Mark Martin of the issue. If Martin had a panel in place by Thursday, then Stephens would drop the order.
Cooper did not challenge other parts of S.B. 4, including provisions that have the full, 15-member Court of Appeals hear cases that are appealed from a three-judge appellate panel and converts Supreme Court elections into partisan races.