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GOP amendment would pull governor from elections board loop

June 22, 2018 GMT

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Republican legislators are determined to remove the power from Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and his successors to appoint members of the state elections and ethics panel, and are seeking to insert that restriction in the North Carolina Constitution.

House Republicans late Friday unveiled a proposed constitutional amendment that would put all appointments for the board under the control of the General Assembly. The amendment would have to be approved by voters.

Cooper currently picks all nine members. For more than 100 years, until recently, the party of the governor held the majority of the seats on the board tasked with administering elections.

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GOP legislators and Cooper have been fighting over the election board’s composition and powers since just after Cooper defeated Republican Gov. Pat McCrory in late 2016. It’s part of a multi-front approach by Republicans to rebalance powers with the governor. Cooper says it’s all been a raw GOP power grab.

The amendment to be debated early next week in the final days of this year’s work session would establish a constitutional requirement for eight-member board, with no party being allowed to hold a majority of the seats.

“The elections and ethics oversight process should not be partisan and this constitutional amendment protects the board’s impartiality in the strongest possible language,” state House Speaker Tim Moore of Cleveland County said in a release.

The amendment also goes further be saying the legislature “shall control the powers, duties, responsibilities, appointments and terms of office of any board or commission prescribed by general law.”

GOP legislators have been agitated by written comments made by one of Cooper’s attorneys stating the governor had the authority to implement his policy decisions on the elections board. The amendment also says no General Assembly member could be appointed to a board that exercises executive or judicial powers.

Cooper has sued legislative leaders three times over recent alterations to the board, which can make decisions in early voting operations and campaign finance investigations. A divided state Supreme Court last January favored Cooper by ruling lawmakers had gone too far forcing him to choose half of the board from a list of candidates from the Republican Party. The majority of the court agreed Cooper had been prevented from effectively executing election laws in the way that he wanted.

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The current nine-member board is comprised of four Democrats and four Republicans, as well as one unaffiliated voter chosen by Cooper from two nominees that the remaining eight members were required to propose.

The proposed amendment, which would need support from 72 House members and 30 senators before being submitted as a referendum in November, essentially would give four board appointments each to the speaker and the Senate president pro tempore. The appointments would be based on the nominations from the majority and minority party leaders of each chamber. Appointees could be unaffiliated or registered with a smaller political party.

Bills proposing constitutional amendments to voters aren’t subject to Cooper’s veto stamp. But Cooper’s office is clearly opposed, saying the amendment would give Republicans control over the parameters of decision-making of critical quasi-judicial panels like the state Utilities Commission and Environmental Management Commission.

Republicans “are fundamentally rewriting the constitution to exclude all North Carolinians but themselves from making decisions about what is in the best interest of the state,” Cooper spokesman Ford Porter said. “This breathtaking amendment would disrupt the balance of power and destroy careful checks and balances of government, giving Republicans exclusive control over how you can vote, the cost of your energy bill, and the quality of your drinking water.”