Chris Seward firstname.lastname@example.org
For the second time since Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper took office, the state Supreme Court issued a ruling striking down an attempt by the Republican-led General Assembly to revamp the state elections board.
In a 4-3 ruling that breaks down along the court’s partisan lines, the justices found that a law passed in 2017 that merged the state Board of Elections with the state Ethics Commission and limited Cooper’s power to appoint a majority of its members violated the state Constitution’s separation of powers clause.
The ruling, in a case that has attracted national attention, means that the governor’s party will control elections boards at the state and county levels, as has been the case for decades before Cooper defeated one-term Republican Gov. Pat McCrory. That could have implications for voting hours and poll locations in this year’s elections.
The law that merged the state elections board and ethics commission passed despite a veto by Cooper. Not only did it set up an eight-member board and change how appointments are made, the lawmakers extended the tenure of the executive director of the state elections board – selected when Republicans had control of both General Assembly and the governor’s office – at least through the 2018 elections. Kim Strach, who currently holds the position, could only be replaced if the new board, which would hold an equal number of Democrats and Republicans, chose to do so.
Strach has worked at the elections board for 18 years, first as an investigator, then as a deputy director for 13 years before being appointed director in 2013 when a Republican governor came into office.
The filing period for candidates planning to run for state Senate and House seats opens on Feb. 12, as it does for North Carolina’s congressional candidates.
Much about the state’s elections this year has been in flux while judges in state and federal court weigh many challenges to redistricting plans and laws such as the one that dictated the revamp of the elections board.
On Friday, attorneys for the state elections and ethics board were reading the ruling written by Justice Sam Ervin IV and were not certain how quickly changes would take place.
Though the office functions of the ethics commission and elections board merged last year, Cooper did not make any appointments to the board while his lawsuit made its way through the courts. Attorneys for Cooper argued that the governor should be able to have a say in who oversees elections.