The board that oversees elections and government ethics in North Carolina has no members because Gov. Roy Cooper hasn’t appointed anyone as he continues his court challenge against the law merging the two boards.
On Friday, the N.C. Court of Appeals rejected Cooper’s latest request to put on hold the law creating the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement. That law was passed in a December special session of the legislature and revised in April in response to court rulings.
Cooper’s lawsuit argues the change in the elections board violates the constitutional separation of powers.
The April law divides the merged elections board and ethics commission equally among Republicans and Democrats – a change from the previous elections board, which was controlled by the governor’s party. Cooper is to select the new board members from lists compiled by the two parties.
So far, he hasn’t done so. The N.C. Republican Party submitted its list of six candidates for the board in April, but the N.C. Democratic Party has not announced any selections for the board. “We are going to let the court process play out,” party spokesman Robert Howard said Friday.
Cooper’s spokespeople did not respond to an inquiry about the appointments on Friday afternoon.
The elections agency began operating this month as the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement, its attorney told the governor’s attorney in a memo dated June 5.
“The current Ethics and Elections Act does not provide for an interim board as previously attempted,” attorney Josh Lawson wrote, referring to a provision in the earlier law that called for Ethics Commission members to serve on the merged board until the governor made appointments.
Lawson said the agency’s staff continues to perform its work but can’t take any actions that require the board to weigh in. “I have advised the State Board Office to continue in the performance of its statutory duties and the exercise of regulatory oversight of ethics, elections, and campaign finance as to all matters in which the statutes do not expressly require a vote of the State Board,” he wrote.
Prior to the merger, the elections board had scheduled a July 31 public hearing on proposed rules. Those include changes to official election protest forms, which the agency has redesigned with the aim of better shielding eligible voters from unsubstantiated accusations of voter fraud.
On Thursday, N.C. Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes called on Cooper to make the appointments.
“By refusing to do his job, the appointments to all 100 local county boards cannot move forward, therefore jeopardizing the fair and bipartisan process of the elections and ethics administration,” Hayes said in a news release. “Gov. Cooper needs to follow the law, and the court’s instruction, and make these appointments immediately and without delay.”
Cooper could still take his request to put the elections board change on hold to the N.C. Supreme Court. The rejection from the N.C. Court of Appeals came one day after a three-judge panel in Superior Court rejected the same request; those judges had dismissed Cooper’s lawsuit on June 1.
Brent Woodcox, a staff attorney for legislative leaders, criticized Cooper’s actions on Twitter on Friday.
“There is no end this governor won’t go to in order to avoid obeying the law,” Woodcox tweeted. “Can he be investigated for obstruction of justice?”
As the law is written, a Republican is to head the new board in presidential election years when voter turnout is typically the largest. The merged board leads the oversight of elections and any disputes over ballots, and it’s also in charge of investigating ethics complaints against politicians and possible violations of lobbying and campaign finance laws.