Politics & Government

Republicans consider asking voters to limit Roy Cooper's power

Legislative leaders are considering a constitutional amendment that would limit Gov. Roy Cooper's power over the state elections board.

House Rules Chairman David Lewis, a Harnett County Republican, confirmed the possibility Monday but said details of the amendment are still being worked out.

"The elections and ethics board is something that we are indeed looking at in terms of its structure," Lewis told reporters. "I believe that the people of the state are committed to having elections administered in a free and fair way, and that includes free from influence from the chief executive."

Lewis said Cooper's "staff is taking a position that the board of elections is an executive agency, and it's never been before."

The Republican-controlled legislature has been sparring with the Democratic governor over the structure of the board, and he successfully sued to overturn a 2016 law requiring the board to include an even split between Democrats and Republicans. The current Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement has four Democrats, four Republicans and an unaffiliated member who was nominated by the other board members and appointed by Cooper.

During the legal limbo created by the lawsuit, Cooper's attorney ordered the agency's staff to "refrain from taking any substantive action" — a move that prompted the elections agency's attorney to question whether "the administration believes the agency is dissolved."

Lewis wouldn't say who'd appoint elections board members under a constitutional amendment, but said the language would make clear that "it is not an executive agency, it is a quasi-judicial agency that is not subject to the whims of one person."

The House has already rolled out a constitutional amendment bill that would ask voters to add a voter ID requirement to the constitution. Lewis said legislative leaders are still deciding which constitutional amendments to put on the ballot, but those issues will be on the agenda next week.