House OKs Elections, Ethics Rewrite; Cooper Threatens Veto
The North Carolina House voted along party lines Thursday to retool a Republican law struck down by a court that combined elections and ethics duties into one board, which its chief proponent says he hopes would settle the matter without legal appeals.
But Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who sued over the original law that he argues prevented him from overseeing elections, said he'll veto the reworked measure if it reaches his desk and threatened legal action again if necessary "to protect the integrity of our electoral system."
The bill "is the latest GOP attempt to curtail voting rights in North Carolina? - and I intend to fight it," Cooper wrote online hours before the House voted 68-42 for the measure, which now goes to the Senate for consideration, possibly next week.
The combined ethics and elections board was among several laws the GOP-controlled legislature passed two weeks before Cooper took office that reduced or checked his powers. Cooper sued over three areas in the laws. In a ruling last month, three judges sided with the governor in two areas, including that the combined panel usurped his executive branch duties.
The proposed amended law still leaves in place an eight-member panel with membership equally divided by the two parties. But it attempts to make concessions to the governor in light of last month's ruling to end appeals.
The governor would get to make all eight appointments, choosing four from six nominees provided by each chairman of the state Democratic and Republican parties. The December law also said six of the eight members had to vote affirmatively to make decisions. The alteration would reduce the threshold to five votes in election law matters.
"It is our hope that by passing this bill we will able to forgo that litigation," said Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, the bill's chief proponent. Lewis said equal representation by the parties remains his preferred method to handle inherently partisan decisions over state and county election matters, which can include choosing early voting sites and acting on campaign finance investigations. Four-member county boards would continue to be equally divided, too.
"I believe that a bipartisan board in which folks come together and agree on a particular policy is a better way to go forward," Lewis said.
But the method would replace a separate five-member State Board of Elections, in which the majority is filled by members of the governor's party. Democrats on the House floor said the previous system has been working fine.
"In my opinion, this is just foregoing one (piece of) litigation for another," said House Minority Leader Darren Jackson, D-Wake.
Cooper said the elections board change reminded him of actions by Republican lawmakers that reduced the number of early voting days and got rid of same-day registration during the early voting period. A federal appeals court struck down a 2013 law that included those provisions and a requirement to show photo identification to vote in person. The U.S. Supreme Court is weighing whether to consider the case.
Republicans hold veto-proof majorities in the House and Senate. Democratic Rep. Bill Brisson of Bladen County joined all House Republicans present Thursday to vote for the proposed amended law. Lawmakers are planning recorded votes next Monday and Tuesday before a weeklong Easter break away from Raleigh.