Nevada Republican who lost 2022 Senate primary to confront Rosen

Raleigh — Trial judges found that North Carolina's GOP-controlled legislature unlawfully tried to take the governor's ability to choose elections board members in the battleground state, blocking parts of a new election law.

The three-judge court unanimously sided with Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper in his lawsuit launched days after the GOP-controlled General Assembly overrode his veto in October. In January, the legislature would have taken over board appointment authority from the executive.

The tribunal blocked the new State Board of Elections and boards in all 100 counties from taking effect in late November while Cooper's lawsuit was heard. The judges agreed with Cooper's lawyers that the new appointments process interferes with a governor's authority to “faithfully execute” elections and voting rules based on recent court rulings and the state constitution.

In the order filed Monday, Superior Court Judges Edwin Wilson, Andrew Womble, and Lori Hamilton stated that the law “infringes upon the Governor's constitutional duties” and that GOP legislative leaders' actions “are the most stark and blatant removal of appointment power from the Governor” since 2016 and 2018 state Supreme Court rulings that favored the governor. Hamilton, Womble, and Wilson are Republicans and Democrats, respectively.

Unless reversed on appeal, these boards will operate under the old law. Since the California Supreme Court shifted from 4-3 Democratic to 5-2 GOP in early 2023, Republicans have been emboldened by previous high-stakes verdicts. Cooper, who cannot run again this year, termed the changes a GOP power grab in a presidential election year. These bodies' decisions on election sites, ballot counts, and results challenges affect close governor, congressional, and legislative races.

Republicans in the General Assembly have unsuccessfully sought to change the state board's membership to foster nonpartisan voting and elections for years. They were foiled by judicial rulings and a 2018 constitutional amendment voters rejected.

Cooper stated in a prepared statement that the state board “continues to uphold the highest standards of fairness and Republican leaders should stop their efforts to control the ballot box and sow chaos before the November elections.”

House Speaker Tim Moore did not react Tuesday, but Senate leader Phil Berger's spokesperson, Lauren Horsch, said: “For someone who claims to have concerns about election interference, Gov. Cooper is stopping at nothing to keep complete, single-party control of elections administration.”

The verdict, issued last Friday, also halted a crucial piece of 2023 Republican revisions intended to boost voter confidence in elections. They continued Republican state legislatures' voting restriction trend and were among the most extensive voting reforms implemented last year. These rules followed former President Donald Trump's bogus claims that rampant fraud cost him reelection in 2020.

Five members of the state elections board are appointed by the governor from major party candidate lists, a 100-year-old practice. The governor's party has three seats.

The disputed Republican proposal would have increased the board to eight members nominated by the General Assembly on the advice of top legislative leaders from both parties, possibly resulting in a 4-4 split between Democrats and Republicans. Four-member county boards would be chosen by legislative leaders. County boards have five members, with state board members naming four and Cooper one.

Cooper and his Democratic allies say these formats will cause deadlocks, resulting in fewer early in-person voting sites and more challenged election results by the General Assembly. As general election campaigning and voting near, new board appointments may occur if judges uphold the board changes in the coming months.

Other modifications in last week's primary elections eliminated a three-day grace period for mailed ballots postmarked by the election day and excluded ballots received after March 5. Many first-time voters displayed photo ID due to a 2018 law delayed by lawsuits.

Cooper has filed multiple lawsuits contesting General Assembly laws he claims illegally undercut his position, including the elections board action. A second three-judge court blocked congressional appointment changes to two boards and commissions late last month but approved changes to five others. Republican lawmakers will appeal that verdict.

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