Three judges who already have ruled against one legislative attempt to take away control of elections oversight from the governor’s political party issued an order late Friday that temporarily blocks the latest law with that aim. Gov. Roy Cooper sued Phil Berger, leader of the state Senate, Tim Moore, speaker of the state House, and the state on Wednesday over a law that again calls for the merging of the state elections board and ethics commission and changes the makeup, staffing and function of the two groups. Legislators enacted the bill this week, overriding the governor’s veto of a law that would create an eight-member board to oversee the state’s elections that would be evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats. For the first two years, the board would keep the elections director selected during the Pat McCrory administration.
Although the latest configuration approved by the Republican-led General Assembly would allow the governor to appoint board members, the two major political parties would make lists from which the governor must choose four members each. The law also puts a Republican in charge of the new board in every presidential election year. A Democrat would chair the board in midterm election years.
“If this somehow sounds familiar,” said Jim Phillips, an Greensboro attorney representing Cooper, “that’s because it is.”
In a hearing held by conference call, Phillips compared the law to one adopted in December 2016, which merged the commission and elections board, but limited Cooper’s power to appoint its members. Though the new scenario shifts the appointment process back to the governor, Phillips said the goal is still to hamstring the governor’s ability to control an agency under the executive branch.