Elections boards in 16 counties received relief late Friday from the state Supreme Court that allows them to prepare for local elections without all their members.
The boards in Pitt, Carteret, Chowan, Cumberland, Edgecombe, Jones, Lincoln, Perquimans, Transylvania, Vance and other counties affected had been stymied from preparing for county and municipal elections this year because of a power struggle between Republican lawmakers and Gov. Roy Cooper that ended up in state court.
Cooper sued the legislative leaders earlier this year after they passed a law that merged the state elections board and ethics commission in a case that could determine whether Republicans will have leadership on elections boards at the state and county level during presidential election years when North Carolina voters also elect their governor.
Local elections boards decide voting details such as polling locations, early voting sites and when those are open for voters to cast their ballots early.
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On Friday, four days after hearing a case that is being watched by national voting rights organizations, the Supreme Court’s newest member, Justice Mike Morgan, issued an order that allows the local boards with only two members to meet without a quorum as long as both members agree.
Morgan’s order also asks the three-judge panel that had dismissed the governor’s lawsuit earlier this year to provide the Supreme Court more information.
The three-judge panel dismissed the case, citing a jurisdictional issue that was not elaborated on in the ruling. The justices not only asked for the reasoning behind that decision, but also asked the panel to provide the high court with what decision the judges would have made had they thought they had jurisdiction.
They have 60 days to respond.
The law that merged the state elections board and ethics commission passed despite a veto by Cooper. Not only did it set up an eight-member board and change how appointments are made, the lawmakers extended the tenure of the executive director of the state elections board – selected when Republicans had control of both General Assembly and the governor’s office – at least through the 2018 elections. Kim Strach, who currently holds the position, could only be replaced if the new board, which would hold an equal number of Democrats and Republicans, chose to do so.
Cooper has yet to make any appointments to the board while his lawsuit makes its way through the courts. Attorneys for Cooper have argued in court that the governor, as has been the case for decades, should be able to have a say in who oversees elections in a state where he defeated one-term Republican Gov. Pat McCrory.
Republicans have framed the idea as a “bipartisan” one, and they have been critical of Cooper for continuing what they described as “partisan politics” when he challenges them in court.