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.
“I appreciate the Court’s careful consideration,” Cooper said in a statement after the ruling was released. “Access to the ballot box is vital to our democratic process and I will continue to protect fair elections and the right of North Carolinians to vote.”
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.