North Carolina Judge Temporarily Blocks Law That Strips Incoming Democratic Governor's Power

Governor-elect Roy Cooper said the law could also make it harder for North Carolinians to vote.

A North Carolina judge has temporarily blocked a law prohibiting Governor-elect Roy Cooper (D) from making appointments to the state election board.

Cooper filed a lawsuit Friday asking Wake County judge Donald Stephens to stop the law from taking effect on Sunday, when Cooper will be sworn in. The governor-elect argued that it violates separation of powers in the state constitution by transferring power from the governor to the legislature.

The lawsuit targets SB 4, a law the Republican-controlled state legislature passed at the last minute that strips the governor’s influence on election boards.

The law increases the number of people on the North Carolina State Board Of Elections from five to eight members. While the governor appointed all the members of the board in the past, SB 4 requires the new eight-member board to be split along party lines, with half appointed by the governor and half by the legislature. The law also requires a 6-2 majority on the board to move forward with a motion, which could stall decisions that would affect voting rights. 

In addition, the number of people on county election boards would be expanded from three to four members, split along party lines. The governor has traditionally appointed two of the three members of the county boards.

Gov. Pat McCrory (R), who lost to Cooper in the November election but did not concede the race until early December, signed SB 4 into law. It was one of two bills North Carolina Republicans passed in the waning days of the legislative session to limit the incoming Democratic governor’s power. Another law, HB 17, requires the state Senate to confirm Cooper’s Cabinet picks, bars him from making appointments to the University of North Carolina Board of Trustees or the state Board of Education and reduces the number of administrative positions Cooper can designate as being exempt from usual hiring and firing rules.

In a statement explaining why he was filing the lawsuit against SB 4, Cooper said it would make it more difficult for the state’s residents to vote.

“This complex new law passed in just two days by the Republican legislature is unconstitutional and anything but bipartisan. A tie on a partisan vote would accomplish what many Republicans want: making it harder for North Carolinians to vote,” he stated. “It will result in elections with longer lines, reduced early voting, fewer voting places, little enforcement of campaign finance laws, indecision by officials and mass confusion.”

Phil Berger, the Republican state Senate leader, accused Cooper of trying to preserve political power.

“Given the recent weeks-long uncertainty surrounding his own election, the governor-elect should understand better than anyone why North Carolinians deserve a system they can trust will settle election outcomes fairly and without the taint of partisanship,” he said in a statement. “Roy Cooper’s effort to stop the creation of a bipartisan board with an equal number of Democrats and Republicans to enforce elections and ethics laws may serve his desire to preserve his own political power, but it does not serve the best interests of our state.”

Stephens scheduled another hearing in the case for Thursday.



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