The state House on Thursday approved a bill wresting control of elections boards from the political party of the governor.
Earlier in the day Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, said he would veto the bill if it comes to his desk and sue to block it if necessary. The House vote was 68-42.
The proposal is on a fast track, having just been made public Tuesday afternoon – inserted into an unrelated bill so that it could move directly to the full Senate rather than work its way through Senate committees.
Senate Bill 68 would merge the State Ethics Board and the State Board of Elections, and evenly divide membership of the new board between Republicans and Democrats. The bill would let the governor appoint all eight members, choosing from lists provided by the each of the major parties.
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Rep. David Lewis, a Harnett County Republican, said the intention of the bill was to satisfy the concerns of a three-judge panel that found similar legislation unconstitutional.
“This is no longer a separation of powers issue because we’ve given the executive branch the power to appoint the members of the board,” Lewis said.
Democratic Leader Darren Jackson of Knightdale said the bill would not withstand judicial review.
“This is just forgoing one litigation for another one that’s sure to follow,” Jackson said. “It appears to me some in the legislature are very determined to do whatever they can to limit the executive branch’s power.”
The bill also would split county elections boards between the parties. County boards would select their own chairmen, rotating between the parties annually with Republicans leading in even-numbered years when most elections are held.
Cooper elaborated on his opposition in an online post on Thursday.
“This week’s legislation attempting to seize control of elections boards is the latest GOP attempt to curtail voting rights in North Carolina – and I intend to fight it,” Cooper said. “... If this law comes to my desk, I will veto it and, if necessary I will take legal action to protect the integrity of our electoral system.”
A previous version of this story incorrectly explained how the governor could appoint members under the bill.