North Carolina trial judges block election board changes made by Republican legislature

Nov 30, 2023, 11:23 AM

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina trial judges on Thursday blocked portions of a new law that would transfer Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s authority to pick election board members to the Republican-dominated General Assembly.

Following a 90-minute hearing, the three state judges agreed unanimously to issue a preliminary injunction sought by Cooper. His lawyers argued that the alterations to the State Board of Elections and county boards in all 100 counties need to be stopped now or his directive in the state constitution to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed” will be harmed irreparably.

The Republican legislative leaders whom Cooper has sued can appeal the decision to the state Court of Appeals. The outcome of the injunction request and Cooper’s broader litigation on the law, which was enacted just last month, could affect how the 2024 elections are administered in the ninth-largest U.S. state, where races for president and governor are likely to be closely contested. The changes would take effect on Jan. 1.

The state elections board currently comprises five members appointed by the governor — a format that goes back to 1901. The governor’s party always holds three of the seats.

The new law, which went into effect after Republican lawmakers overrode Cooper’s veto, would increase the board to eight members appointed by the General Assembly based on the recommendations of top legislative leaders from both parties. This would likely create a 4-4 split among Democrats and Republicans.

For several years, Republicans have pushed unsuccessfully to alter the composition of the board: They’ve been thwarted both by court rulings and a constitutional amendment that voters rejected in 2018.

GOP leaders say this measure is different, however, and will promote bipartisan election administration and consensus. Cooper and his allies have countered that the changes are a GOP power grab that will lead to board impasses that could erode early voting access and send outcomes of contested elections to the courts or the General Assembly to settle.

Superior Court Judges Lori Hamilton and Andrew Womble — both Republicans — and Edwin Wilson, a Democrat, didn’t give a reason in court for issuing the injunction. But Hamilton suggested during questioning that allowing the law to be carried out on Jan. 1 — only to have it be possibly struck down later — could cause confusion and disarray in a presidential election year.

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North Carolina trial judges block election board changes made by Republican legislature