RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Gov. Roy Cooper (D) vetoed a bill Thursday that would make significant changes to state and county election boards, calling the Republican-backed measure unconstitutional.
The General Assembly passed the bill last week. It would restructure state and county election boards to make them evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. It would also take power from the governor to appoint people to those boards and give that power to the legislature.
Those boards are majority Democratic currently, as the governor is a Democrat.
Courts have thrown out previous efforts by Republicans in the General Assembly to make a similar change. Voters also rejected a proposed amendment to the state constitution in 2018.
“The legislative takeover of state and local elections boards could doom our state’s elections to gridlock and severely limit early voting. It also creates a grave risk that Republican legislators or courts would be empowered to change the results of an election if they don’t like the winner. That’s a serious threat to our democracy, particularly after the nation just saw a presidential candidate try to strongarm state officials into reversing his losing election result. Courts have already ruled the ideas in this bill unconstitutional, and voters overwhelmingly said no when the legislature tried to change the constitution,” Cooper said in a statement.
In passing this recent bill, GOP lawmakers have said the even partisan split on the boards would lead to more bipartisan decision making.
Critics have warned that in this polarized environment, the boards could deadlock on key issues, such as where to put early voting sites. If they can’t reach an agreement on that, state law calls for only one early voting site in a county.
Republican legislators decried a decision in 2020 when the State Board of Elections settled a lawsuit brought by Democratic attorney Marc Elias that made various changes to the state’s election laws, including extending the deadline for mail-in ballots amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Republicans are expected to vote to override Cooper’s veto in the next few weeks. If they’re successful, the law would take effect Jan. 1, 2024, ahead of next year’s primary election.
“The new law doesn’t jeopardize freedom, but it ensures fairness and integrity in the elections process,” said Sen. Paul Newton (R-Cabarrus County). “It doesn’t matter who wins. We just need to have the electorate confident in the outcome.”
Under a separate bill Cooper already has vetoed, Republicans made a variety of other changes to election laws, including moving up the deadline for mail-in ballots to Election Day.
The two bills are likely to be the subject of legal battles leading into 2024. Republican lawmakers are also in the process of redrawing the state’s districts for Congress and the General Assembly.
“A lot has to happen for us to have a normal functioning election where we know what the laws are and even what the lines are as well,” said Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause North Carolina.