With the November election over, lawmakers must reconfigure the Bipartisan Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement to comply with a Superior Court order.
The order was issued in October in the Cooper v. Berger case, which revolves around the constitutionality of the Bipartisan Board of Election and Ethics Enforcement. Superior Court Judges Todd Burke and Jesse Caldwell, both Democrats, ruled the structure of the board was unconstitutional and violated the governor’s power to appoint or remove members of the board. Judge Jeff Foster, a Republican, wrote the dissenting opinion.
When the order was issued, the general election was only three weeks away. To avoid voter confusion, the court decided to allow the board to continue operating until after the election results were certified.
Republican lawmakers proposed a constitutional amendment to establish an eight-member bipartisan ethics and election board, but the amendment failed. About 61 percent of voters rejected the amendment; about 38 percent voted for it.
Lawmakers have until the election results are certified to find a solution.
Bob Orr, a former N.C. State Supreme Court justice, said lawmakers will probably have to return to the basics to determine the best makeup of the board. This may mean taking more time to engage with experts to mitigate further disruptions.
“It would make sense to actually bring in people from the [UNC] School of Government, people from maybe out of state or national organizations that deal with ethics and with elections and let’s figure out what a good model is,” Orr said.
While Orr commended the idea of a nonpartisan board, he questioned the logic of merging ethics and elections together in the first place.
“What troubles me and really hasn’t been discussed much, is I never understood the reasoning behind merging the two separate boards,” Orr said. “How do we take two of the most important and complicated areas of state government — elections on the one hand and ethics within state government on the other — and sort of lump them all into one big governmental bureaucracy with a fairly small board?”
Requests for comment by Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, co-chairman of the House Elections and Ethics Law Committee, went unanswered.