Friday, July 19, 2024

Judges issue injunction on law remaking North Carolina election boards

The North Carolina General Assembly in Raleigh. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy NCGA)
The North Carolina General Assembly building in Raleigh. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy NCGA)

WAKE COUNTY — A three-judge panel will temporarily block a new state elections law that would strip the executive branch of some appointing authority and changed the structure of state and local election boards.

READ MORE: Budget, bills and maps: 2023’s legislative session is marked by power shifts led by Republican legislators

From Wake County Superior Court, the panel issued the decision on Thursday ahead of the law’s Jan. 1 effective date.

Senate Bill 749 overhauls the makeup of local and state election boards. It reduces the number of members on local boards from five to four members, and as a result, is expected to increase gridlock due to a lack of party majority.

Appointing power also changes hands. Under the previous process, the governor selected the five members of the state election board, usually appointing three members from their own party and two from the opposition. Governors also pick the chair of each county board, while local officials choose the other county board members. 

The state board would now comprise eight members all chosen by the leaders of the General Assembly. For local boards, the four members will be chosen by the speaker of the House, president pro tempore of the Senate and the minority leaders of each chamber.

The bill passed in October over Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto. Afterward, Cooper filed a lawsuit against General Assembly leaders, Republicans Tim Morre and Phil Berger, alleging the new law is unconstitutional.

The injunction will remain on the law until the resolution of Cooper’s lawsuit, expected to go to trial early next year, unless a higher court takes up the case.

S.B. 749 is one of several pieces of legislation to be challenged in court this year due to power shifts initiated by the GOP.

Senate Bill 512, deemed a “power grab” by Cooper and passed over his veto, takes away some of the governor’s appointments or dilutes executive representation on 11 state boards or commissions, including the Utilities Commission, Wildlife Resources Commission and the Commission for Public Health. 

Cooper’s lawsuit, filed against the state and Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore in their official roles, maintains the North Carolina Supreme Court has held the governor “must have sufficient control over administrative bodies that have final executive authority.” 

The lawsuit also challenges a provision in the House Bill 488, passed via veto override, which reorganizes the State Building Council and creates a Residential Code Council.

The North Carolina Democratic Party and Democratic National Committee filed their lawsuit against Senate Bill 747. The law makes various changes to voting laws on same-day registration and absentee voting, and eliminates the three-day “grace period” to accept ballots postmarked on Election Day but delivered after.  

The lawsuit claims several portions of the law violate the U.S. Constitution and Voting Rights Act, leading to voter suppression. Republican backers have said the legislation will increase trust in elections. The law’s changes will apply to elections starting in 2024. 

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