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Board of elections changes, for state and counties, put on hold

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(The Center Square) – Changes to North Carolina’s boards of elections at the state and county level is on hold and will not be implemented Friday.

The state Supreme Court’s panel of three justices sided with Gov. Roy Cooper and issued a preliminary injunction on Thursday morning.

Instead of No Partisan Advantage in Elections making changes to the composition and appointment authority to the state Board of Elections, and each of the 100 county boards, Justices Edwin Wilson, Lori Hamilton and Andrew Womble showed favor to a trial in 2024. The three were unanimous in their decision.

The new law had an enactment date of Dec. 1 ahead of the Jan. 1 new term for the respective boards.

The changes would have increased the five-member state board to eight. Appointments would be made by each of the General Assembly majority and minority leaders for the Democratic and Republican parties. The county boards would have reduced from five to four each, with General Assembly majority and minority leaders for the two major parties putting final stamp on the representatives.

In theory, the state board would be a 4-4 split and county boards 2-2, though appointments could have been from the state’s largest bloc – unaffiliated – or its smaller parties. North Carolinians are also registered as Green, Libertarian and No Labels.

As of last Saturday, the state’s more than 7.3 million voters are 36.4% unaffiliated, 32.8% Democrats and 30.1% Republicans.

Cooper and his legal team say an eight-member state board “would gridlock North Carolina elections and violate the separation of powers.” A previous attempt to similarly change election boards in 2018 was denied by the state Supreme Court, and a constitutional amendment that fall was defeated by voters 61.6%-38.4%.

A joint statement from chamber minority leaders Sen. Dan Blue, D-Wake, and Rep. Robert Reives, D-Chatham, said, “The people’s faith in fair and free elections is at the very heart of a thriving democracy. We applaud the unanimous decision to block Republicans’ latest assault on our democratic process. The court’s clear rejection of the GOP’s attempted power grab is a win for voters and our state constitution.”

In a post on social media, Cooper wrote, “Administering fair, secure elections is critical for our democracy and the courts have repeatedly found that partisan legislative attempts to take over the state Board of Elections are unconstitutional.”

The legislation didn’t have any Democrats for it, any Republicans against it, and Cooper stamped his 92nd veto on it. The bill was one of 19 Cooper vetoes overturned by lawmakers this session.

Mid-afternoon at time of publication, social media for Sen. Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, remained quiet.

When Cooper issued the veto, Sen. Warren Daniel, R-Burke, issued a statement reading in part, “Single-party control has led to distrust and skepticism among voters. Voters should be asking themselves why Governor Cooper is so desperate to maintain his partisan grip on the State Board of Elections.”

The case is known as Cooper v. Berger for short, though defendants named also include Moore and the state of North Carolina. Berger and Moore are named in their roles representing the respective chambers.

The three judges ruling Thursday were a mix of parties. Hamilton and Womble are Republicans, Wilson a Democrat. They were chosen by Chief Justice Paul Newby, a Republican.

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