Cooper seeks fast movement following elections board ruling
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Gov. Roy Cooper wants the legal wheels to spin faster after the North Carolina Supreme Court tossed out laws governing the makeup of a combined state elections and ethics board, hoping that will let him seat a new elections board quickly.
Cooper’s private attorneys asked the justices Tuesday to hurry up formalizing last Friday’s split decision that favored Cooper. The court’s majority opinion said lawmakers had gone too far by requiring Cooper, a Democrat, to choose half of the members of the combined board from a list of candidates generated by the Republican Party.
Under legal rules, the justices’ order doesn’t get sent to the panel of three trial judges who initially heard the case until Feb. 15. Then those judges will issue its own ruling on how the majority opinion affects the challenged laws.
But the governor contends that a quicker resolution is needed because candidate filing for Congress, the legislature, district attorneys and county seats starts Feb. 12. There’s currently no elections board in place — the combined board was vacant since last spring — so formalizing the ruling could help create one sooner, Cooper lawyer Daniel Smith wrote in a brief.
The elections board can be the final arbiter in campaign finance investigations and local voting site decisions.
“We need to get moving on this because filing opens very soon and it’s important for us to get started,” Cooper told reporters.
The lower-court judges, however, could say whether any part of the elections and ethics law can remain intact. But the governor said he believes last Friday’s 4-3 decision means election and ethics board laws revert to what they were before the Republican-controlled General Assembly changed them.
Under the old laws, there was a separate State Board of Elections and State Ethics Commission. The governor’s party would hold three of the election board’s five seats.
The setup of the combined eight-member board, a majority of justices ruled last week, prevented Cooper from effective executive election laws in the way that he wanted.
The General Assembly likely would have to pass laws to conform to the decisions of the Supreme Court and the three-judge panel.
Rep. David Lewis of Harnett County, who helped shepherd the law that was the focus of the decision, said Tuesday that the Republican legislators would respond to Cooper’s request to the Supreme Court as soon as possible.
Earlier this week Lewis said he didn’t believe what the justices wrote prevented lawmakers from trying again to combine the elections and ethics panels if they choose. He said lawmakers were meeting with their lawyers to “understand the best way to move forward.”
“That option is certainly still on the table,” Lewis said, adding he “would certainly expect some action by the General Assembly in the next few weeks.”