News: Quick Takes

Judges block new merged elections, ethics board

A split three-judge panel has granted Gov. Roy Cooper’s request for a temporary restraining order to block the new bipartisan election and ethics board created in a new state law. The General Assembly overrode Cooper’s veto earlier this week to approve the law.

Judges issued their ruling just before 5 p.m. They had held a hearing on Cooper’s request in the morning. The two Democrats on the judicial panel supported the Democrat Cooper. The Republican judge dissented.

Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, responded to the 2-1 court ruling blocking the provisions of Senate Bill 68. “The two out of three judges’ decision to override the legislature’s constitutional authority to create a bipartisan elections and ethics enforcement board – even after we modified the board exactly as they required – is little different than the legislating from the bench they specifically promised they would not do,” Berger said in a prepared statement. “They have taken the first, disturbing step toward giving Roy Cooper total control of the board responsible for regulating his own ethics and campaign finance conduct, and we will continue to defend the law evenly dividing elections and ethics enforcement between both political parties.”

The previous state law called for a five-member State Board of Elections in which the governor’s political party held three of the seats, while the other major party held two. S.B. 68 expanded the board to eight members, with both major parties holding four seats.

Unlike an earlier version of the new board, struck down by the same three-judge panel, all appointees of the board created by S.B. 68 would be appointed by the governor.

The news release tied to Berger’s statement highlighted the change. “The three-judge panel had concerns with an earlier version of the law regarding the division of appointments between the legislature and the governor,” according to the news release from Berger’s office. “Despite Gov. Cooper’s veto, S.B. 68 addressed those concerns by allowing him to make all appointments to the new board.”

“In an earlier order, the three-judge panel wrote, ‘This Court has no desire to “hang up its robes” to assume a legislative role, and thus respectfully declines to assume that role,” the news release concluded.

The Raleigh News & Observer quoted a statement from Cooper spokesman Ford Porter. “Legislative Republicans have repeatedly worked to restrict access to the ballot box, and time and again their attempts to rig elections have been found unconstitutional.”

“The Court has already struck down similar legislation, and we believe that this law will be overturned as well. Governor Cooper will continue to protect the right to vote and fight for fair elections.”