State Politics

NC Supreme Court halts election ballots amid NAACP challenge

Lawmakers return to write constitutional amendment ballot descriptions

House Speaker Tim Moore discusses the legislature's plans for a special session on Tuesday, which will include passing ballot captions for constitutional amendments -- a job that currently falls to a commission chaired by a Democrat.
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House Speaker Tim Moore discusses the legislature's plans for a special session on Tuesday, which will include passing ballot captions for constitutional amendments -- a job that currently falls to a commission chaired by a Democrat.

The North Carolina Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered the state’s elections board to halt preparation of voting ballots amid a legal challenge from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

The N.C. NAACP challenged the legality of four Constitutional Amendments set for the November election, arguing the ballot language is misleading and the GOP-controlled legislature lacked standing to propose the changes.

The state Supreme Court’s move comes a week after a panel of Superior Court judges blocked two of those four proposed amendments from the ballot.

One amendment would give the legislature a major role in filling judicial vacancies, which is now done by the governor. Another amendment, as originally written earlier this year, would strip the governor’s office of its power to appoint members to hundreds of boards and commissions and give that power to the legislature.

The NAACP’s lawsuit challenged those two amendments, as well as one that would introduce voter ID and another that would reduce the maximum state income tax rate from 10 percent to 7 percent.

The N.C. Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement was supposed to begin ballot preparations Aug. 17 so that absentee ballots could be sent by Sept. 7, Josh Lawson, general counsel for the board, told The N&O Wednesday morning.

“Ballot layout and printing vendors require at least twenty-one days for ballot production,” Lawson wrote in an email. “A prior stay effectively reduced the absentee period to the federal minimum, beginning September 22.“

In a statement later Wednesday, the elections office said it has already missed the state deadline for getting mail-in absentee ballots ready. The Board of Elections staff “is exploring additional options to ensure federal compliance” with the Sept. 22 deadline, the statement said.

Earlier this week, legislators returned to Raleigh and rewrote the proposed amendments that affect Cooper’s office.

The amendment related to the governor’s appointments to boards and commissions now only deals with his appointments to the elections board. The amendment changing judicial vacancy procedures would strip the governor of “sole appointment power.”

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In a statement Wednesday afternoon, NC NAACP said it has asked the N.C. Supreme Court to review those changes.

”We continue to fight this latest brazen overreach of this unconstitutional General Assembly and we are grateful that our fight is not in vain,” Rev. T. Anthony Spearman, local NAACP president, said in the statement.

Late Wednesday night the Supreme Court denied the request to have the case moved up. After the court’s order was released there was confusion as to whether the stay on ballot printing had been lifted. At one point, Rep. David Lewis, a Republican from Harnett County, tweeted: “I also appreciate NC Sup. Court removing the stay in NAACP case to allow ballots to be printed. Those wanting to vote by mail deserve for this process to begin. Ballots need to be printed.”

However, Lewis sent another tweet saying a new stay had been issued and the ballots were not to be printed for the time being.

Democrats in the legislature said the new versions of the two amendments remain misleading to voters. Cooper can’t veto any of the proposed amendments because state law doesn’t grant him the authority to do so.

Lauren Horsch of The N.C. Insider contributed to this article.

Andy Specht: 919-829-4870 @AndySpecht
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