For the third time in a little more than a year, a panel of three Superior Court judges was asked Thursday to weigh the legality of a revamped State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement. The elections board has been at the center of a power struggle between Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and Republican legislative leaders since before Cooper took office, and each side has claimed victories in the ongoing dispute. Traditionally, the five-member elections board was controlled by the party of the governor, but after Cooper defeated Republican Gov. Pat McCrory in 2016, lawmakers merged the board with the eight-member Ethics Commission and said the new panel would be evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats.
When Cooper challenged the move as an encroachment on executive branch power to carry out elections laws, Judges Jesse Caldwell of Gaston County, Todd Burke of Forsyth County and Jeffrey Foster of Pitt County sided with the governor, saying he needed to have more control over who served on the new elections board.
Lawmakers then tweaked the board’s structure, giving Cooper more say in appointing people to and removing them from the board, and the three-judge panel signed off on the new structure. But Cooper appealed their ruling, and the state Supreme Court decided in January that the eight-member board still didn’t give the governor enough control. Noting that the board would likely deadlock on many issues given its even split, the justices said that would hinder the governor’s efforts to ensure state laws are carried out.