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Senate Republicans to take up flurry of bills today changing North Carolina elections

The Senate Select Committee on Elections will meet after session today to consider six bills that would change North Carolina elections.

Lawmakers reconvene in chambers at 4 p.m. and the committee will meet 30 minutes after the session ends in room 1027/1128 of the Legislative Building. The room does not record and broadcast audio, but the meeting is open to the public.

Here are the bills that will be discussed:

Senate Bill 253: This bill would change the election method of the Carteret County Board of Education from nonpartisan to partisan beginning in 2018.

SB 285: This bill would subdivide the city of Asheville into six electoral districts by Nov. 1 to govern the nomination and election of city council members.

SB 486: This bill would mandate that when voting hours are extended in one precinct in an election, voting hours have to be extended in every precinct in that same election. The bill states that the State Board of Elections, county board of elections or even a state court “is not authorized” to extend voting hours in one precinct unless voting hours are extended in every precinct.

SB 655: This bill would change the primary elections date in North Carolina from the Tuesday after the first Monday in May to the Tuesday after the first Monday in March. It would also change the time for filing a notice of candidacy from the first Monday in February to the first Monday in December and no later than noon on the third Friday of December.

SB 656: This bill would change the definition of a political party by reducing the number of signatures required for the formation of a new political party and for unaffiliated candidates to obtain ballot access eligibility.

SB 306: This bill would split Mecklenburg County District Court’s single voting district into three, to mirror Superior Court voting districts. You can read more about the bill here.

Courts & the Law, News

UPDATED: General Assembly overrides veto of ethics commission, election board merger

UPDATED: to reflect a response from Gov. Roy Cooper’s Office.

If you can’t win in court, don’t appeal because you may lose again. Just rewrite the law that was struck down and try again.

It worked for the N.C. General Assembly on Tuesday, when House members voted 75-43 to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of Senate Bill 68, which would merge the state Elections Board and the state Ethics Commission.

The Senate already voted last night to override the veto, so the bill is now law — at least until Cooper decides to challenge it in court again.

“Legislative Republicans have repeatedly worked to restrict access to the ballot box, and time and again their attempts to rig elections have been found unconstitutional,” said Ford Porter, a spokesman for Cooper. “This bill simply repackages similar legislation that has already been struck down by the Court. Governor Cooper will continue to protect the right to vote and fight for fair elections.”

A three-panel judge ruled in Cooper’s favor in March that merging the agencies in Senate Bill 4 was an unconstitutional power grab from the executive branch.

Republicans insist that the differences between SB4 and SB68 address the judiciary’s concerns, but Democrats say the “bipartisan” bill will lead to gridlock, dysfunction and more litigation.

Several House Democrats spoke out against the bill on the chamber floor, including Democratic Leader Darren Jackson and Rep. Henry Michaux Jr. (D-Durham).

Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett) defended the bill and said Cooper should be able to find people to serve on the new board who are not hyper-partisan, and who will make decisions without deadlock. He said if the board fails, he’ll be the first to write a bill to fix it.

Rep. John Blust (R-Guilford) also defended the bill and spoke about his concerns about voter fraud and voter suppression, noting how easy it is to vote currently in North Carolina.

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Today: Senate committee to take up bill limiting Cooper’s judicial appointment power

The Senate Judiciary I Committee will review a bill today that would take judicial appointment power away from Gov. Roy Cooper.

The Democratic governor currently has the power to appoint anyone he sees fit to fill district attorney vacancies and vacancies on the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals and Superior Court.

House Bill 335 would change his power to require that he appoint from a list of three recommendations comprised by an executive committee of the political party with which the vacating member was affiliated when elected.

For example, if HB 335 bill had been passed before former Court of Appeals Judge Douglas McCullough, a registered Republican, retired Monday, Cooper would not have been able to appoint Judge John Arrowood, a registered Democrat, to replace him.

Instead, Cooper would have had to appoint someone from a list of three Republicans compiled by an executive committee of Republicans.

Rep. Justin Burr (R-Montgomery, Stanly) introduced the bill, along with a flurry of other bills that take aim at Cooper’s judicial appointment powers.

The public committee meeting will take place at noon today in room 415 of the Legislative Office Building.

Courts & the Law, News

U.S. Supreme Court takes no action after re-visiting “monster” voting law

The U.S. Supreme Court did not announce any action Monday regarding a North Carolina voting rights case justices discussed at a Friday conference.

As Rick Hasen said last week, “no news is no news,” and doesn’t necessarily indicate anything good or bad. The Election Law Blogger speculated that the case may be relisted for a third time this upcoming Friday conference, with a possible announcement next Monday.

There are three parts to consider in the case North Carolina v. North Carolina State Conference of the NAACPand justices could decide to take up and/or resolve one part, all or none.

The first part is the appeal as a whole. The second part is a motion to dismiss the appeal that was filed by state Attorney General Josh Stein and Gov. Roy Cooper. The third part is a motion filed by the state legislature to intervene in the case and keep the appeal alive.

You can read more about the case and the Supreme Court’s review here.

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Court of Appeals judge resigns in reaction to bill shrinking bench; Cooper appoints new judge in wake of veto

John Arrowood

Judge Douglas McCullough

It looks like Republican lawmakers are going to have to wait a little longer for their plan to reduce the Court of Appeals to take effect, even if they choose to override the governor’s veto of House Bill 239 this week.

Judge Douglas McCullough, who is a registered Republican, resigned today from the state Court of Appeals. The judge was facing mandatory retirement in May because of his age.

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper announced after McCullough resigned that he appointed Judge John Arrowood to fill McCullough’s vacancy.

Arrowood, who is openly gay, was working as an attorney at James, McElroy & Diehl in Charlotte. He is a North Carolina native who previously served on the Court of Appeals (2007 and 2008 after former Gov. Mike Easley appointed him) and as a Superior Court Judge.

After law school, Judge Arrowood served as a clerk for Judge Gerald Arnold at the state Court of Appeals, and he was a staff attorney and head of the central staff for the Court, according to Cooper’s office.

“I am deeply appreciative to Judge McCullough for his service to our state and our country,” Cooper said in a news release. “I’m proud to appoint Judge Arrowood to fill this vacancy on the Court of Appeals, a court where he has previously served with distinction. His experience as a judge on this court makes him uniquely qualified to hit the ground running and ensure that justice is swiftly delivered.”

You can read McCullough’s resignation letter here. Cooper held a press conference but only gave about 15 minutes notice beforehand.

John Arrowood was sworn in Monday morning to serve on the Court of Appeals. (Photo released by Gov. Roy Cooper’s Office)

Arrowood, who is a registered Democrat, was sworn in at 9:45 a.m.

Cooper, on Friday, vetoed HB 239, which would reduce the Court of Appeals by three judges.

The bill mandates that vacancies not be filled until the court reaches 12 judges. Since the bill was vetoed, McCullough’s resignation allowed for Cooper to make an appointment.

Judges on the Court of Appeals serve in three-judge panels. If McCullough were to retire as mandated by his age, the court of would have lost an entire panel in May, increasing its workload by an automatic 20 percent.

The next two judges who serve on the Court of Appeals to face mandatory retirement are Robert Hunter Jr. and Ann Marie Calabria in 2019, both registered Republicans.

Experts, advocates and legal stakeholders said that losing a panel on the Court of Appeals would almost certainly result in delays.

Cooper said at the press conference, according to a tweet, that McCullough resigned from the court because he did not agree with HB 239.

Republican General Assembly leaders have not yet released a response to the news of Arrowood’s appointment. Rep. Justin Burr, who sponsored HB 239, also has not released a response.