Commentary

Editorial: Critical that state Supreme Court invalidates legislature’s election power grab

As was explained in this post last week, the North Carolina Supreme Court heard one of the most important cases in many years this past Monday when it listened to the arguments of the parties in Cooper v. Berger and Moore — the governor’s challenge to the legislature’s attempt to steal his constitutional power to appoint election board members:

“As the interest of a national voting rights organization like the Brennan Center indicates, the importance of this case goes well beyond the specifics of a power struggle between a governor and a legislature. As the “friend of the court” brief filed by Brennan Center lawyers argues persuasively, the law in question represents a blatantly unconstitutional and sadly typical attempt by conservative forces to alter and manipulate basic electoral rules so as to ‘entrench’ themselves in power….

If you have any doubt of legislators’ intent, look no further than the simple and almost laughable fact that the new scheme would guarantee Republican control of the chairmanship of the new state board created by the law and all county elections boards during all years in which there is a presidential, gubernatorial and council of state election. As another friend of the court brief in the current case – this one filed by former Governor Jim Hunt and former Supreme Court Chief Justice Burley Mitchell – points out: ‘Beneath its veneer of bipartisanship…the Act’s unmistakable intent and effect is to calcify the current General Assembly’s partisan preferences by depriving the Governor of ‘enough control’ over the new State Board to perform his duty to faithfully execute the law.’”

An editorial in this morning’s Winston-Salem Journal reiterates these concerns:

“If the law is upheld, Republican appointees could hold sway in changes in policy, from pursuing campaign finance investigations to selecting sites for a county’s early voting centers or deciding whether to expand polling hours or the number of Saturdays on which people could cast ballots.

Republicans claim the even number promotes bipartisanship. But an evenly-split committee is also more likely to experience gridlock, which doesn’t benefit anyone.

Bob Hall of Democracy North Carolina told the Journal’s editorial board Monday: ‘Most important, this case is not simply about the powers of the executive versus legislative branches. Fundamentally, it’s about the power of the people to have their votes count, to vote in or out an administration. Put another way: Can a political party with a temporary majority in the legislature enact laws to permanently ‘entrench’ their control over the elections system, despite what the voters say?’

We hope the court will realize that’s not right.”

Amen.

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