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General Assembly looking to settle board of elections appointments with constitutional amendment

A constitutional amendment restructuring the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement is headed for a House vote Monday night.

If passed by voters in November, the amendment would take appointments to quasi-judicial boards and commissions out of the hands of the  governor and put them in the hands of the leaders of the House and Senate.

The amendment would restructure the existing state elections board, which has been the subject of political controversy and lawsuits between Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, and the Republican majority in the North Carolina General Assembly. Under the amendment, the board would have eight members — four appointed by the majority leaders in the House and Senate and four by the minority leaders. The possibility of other parties being represented exists under the amendment, but no more than half the board could be appointed by any one party.

Gov. Roy Cooper, who now appoints the members of the board, would have no appointment authority.

The struggle over control of state board and how it is constituted isn’t strictly a partisan one. Republican leaders in the General Assembly also wrestled with former Gov. Pat McCrory, a fellow Republican, over the issue during his one term in office. McCrory sued legislative leaders when they attempted to create and control a commission overseeing coal ash cleanup, something he argued was in the governor’s power. McCrory ultimately defeated legislative leaders in court, preserving the governors’ authority.

As McCrory’s successor, Cooper picked up the fight. The state supreme court recently ruled in his favor in a suit over legislative leaders’ attempts to redesign the elections board.

In a House Rules Committee debate Monday morning, Rep. Becky Carney (D-Mecklenburg) suggested the amendment is an attempt by Republican leaders to get their way on the issue despite losing in court.

“The courts have already ruled on this issue and we’re rolling along,” Carney said. “Why do we have to put this in the constitution?”

Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett), defending the amendment, said ending the legal fight is one goal of the amendment.

The courts will continue to stymie the ability of the General Assembly to create and restructure boards as they believe is their right, Lewis said. Courts will continue to say that under the constitution as written, that shouldn’t be done, Lewis said. Changing the constitution is a solution to that.

“I will give the people the opportunity to vote on their constitution,” Lewis said. “Which should provide clarity and make these lawsuits go away.”

Ford Porter, spokesman for Gov. Cooper, denounced the push for the amendment in a statement.

“Legislative Republicans are fundamentally rewriting the constitution to exclude all North Carolinians but themselves from making decisions about what is in the best interest of the state,” Ford said in the statement. “This amendment would disrupt the balance of power and destroy careful checks and balances of government, giving Republicans exclusive control over how you can vote, the cost of your energy bill and the quality of your drinking water.”

The amendment is one of six introduced by lawmakers in the waning days of the legislative session, which is expected to end by the end of June. They concern everything from an income tax cap and hunting and fishing rights to a requirement that voters show ID at the polls.

The board of elections amendment passed a voice vote in the House Rules committee Monday morning is headed for House vote Monday evening. As Cooper has no veto authority over constitutional amendments, it will appear on the November ballot if approved by three-fifths of the House and the Senate.

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