NC Republicans override gov’s veto in latest partisan clash

Published 3:54 pm Tuesday, April 25, 2017

RALEIGH — Republican lawmakers have voted to override new Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of a bill that reduces his authority over state elections, the latest partisan clash in North Carolina over laws that chip away at executive branch power.

The House completed the override Tuesday, a day after the Senate cast a similar vote that exceeded the three-fifths majorities required to enact the law despite Cooper’s objections. The governor has threatened a legal challenge over the law, which takes effect early next week.

“Time and again their attempts to rig elections have been found unconstitutional. This bill simply repackages similar legislation that has already been struck down by the court,” Cooper spokesman Ford Porter said in a release, adding the governor “will continue to protect the right to vote and fight for fair elections.”

But legislative leaders rushed to courthouses within minutes of the override to ask judges to declare the new law satisfied their previous concerns about a similar elections law approved just before Cooper took office and that a three-judge panel overturned last month.

Like the previous bill, the measure creates a combined state elections and ethics board with equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans. Local elections boards also would be evenly divided as well. North Carolina law has given the sitting governor’s party a majority of elections board seats for more than a century.

GOP leaders say the measure is designed to promote bipartisan cooperation in administering elections.

“This bill provides a good pathway forward … (so) each and every person can fully participate in the election process and exercise their constitutional right to vote,” Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, the new law’s chief proponent, said before the House’s 75-44 override vote.

But Democrats say the partisan splits still would result in deadlocked votes on both state and county boards similar to the evenly divided Federal Election Commission. Without affirmative votes, for example, only the minimum number of early voting sites required by law would be open during elections, said House Minority Leader Darren Jackson, D-Wake.

“You’re making sure that there’s deadlock and dysfunction in our election boards,” Jackson said during Tuesday’s override debate in the House. “The defaults are against voting.”

Republicans say the updated measure removes some problems the judges found in the December law, one of several that the GOP-dominated legislature had approved to reduce or check Cooper’s powers. Some of the laws were approved within days of Republican Gov. Pat McCrory conceding a narrow loss to Cooper, the long-time attorney general.

For example, the updated law would allow Cooper to appoint all eight members — the December law had allowed the House speaker and Senate leader to pick four of the eight. Cooper would have to make appointments from lists of candidates by the two major parties.

Matters by the combined board would only need a simple majority for passage. The previous law required six of the eight board members to approve any action. Still, a Republican would chair the board during years that presidential and gubernatorial elections are held. Democrats would lead the elections board for midterm elections.

Another override effort was to begin Wednesday on Cooper’s veto of a measure that would reduce the number of state Court of Appeals judges from 15 to 12. The number of judges would decrease as judgeships are eliminated when current judges retire or resign.

Cooper portrays the bill as a GOP power grab because he would no longer be able to fill those vacancies with Democratic judges. Republicans say fewer judges are needed because caseload levels have fallen.

In an unusual twist, a Republican Court of Appeals judge decided to resign Monday about a month before his mandatory retirement date. That gave Cooper the ability to quickly pick a Democrat to succeed him with the bill in limbo.

The legislature already has overridden one Cooper veto this year — a measure making elections for trial court judgeships officially partisan races.