- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 11, 2017

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - After being rebuffed once by judges who determined lawmakers went too far, Republican legislators on Tuesday tried a second time to dilute the power of North Carolina’s new Democratic governor to run elections.

In separate votes, the state House and Senate voted along party lines to trim the power governors have had for more than a century to oversee elections by appointing the state and county elections boards that settle disputes and enforce ballot laws. The state elections board has had five members appointed by the governor, with the majority being members of the governor’s party, since 1901, according to state records.

Gov. Roy Cooper has promised to veto the new legislation, which lets the governor appoint all eight members of an expanded elections board - but from lists provided by the two major political parties. A Republican would chair the board during years that presidential and gubernatorial elections are held. Democrats would lead the elections board for midterm elections. County elections boards, which previously featured two Republicans and one Democrat, will be increased to four members, also evenly split between the parties.

The previous effort to trim Cooper’s elections authority was passed in a surprise special legislative session in December, prompting raucous protests and arrests, two weeks after former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory conceded his loss by barely 10,000 votes.

Some Republicans bristled as Democrats accused them of again acting primarily to weaken Cooper.

“Just because someone voted for governor, they did not vote for someone to oversee every other issue and everything - have a complete and total power of the whole state,” said Sen. Andrew Brock, a Republican from Davie County. “We’re trying to make a system that’s fair.”

A three-judge panel ruled last month that the General Assembly’s initial effort to take some control over elections was unconstitutional. The court ruled that the law prevented Cooper from executing his duties by blocking him from appointing and administering elections board majorities.

Democrats said the new, even-numbered elections boards divided equally between the two major parties was a recipe for the same gridlock that for years has gripped the evenly split Federal Elections Commission. Critics say that has meant the commission can’t punish violations and has failed to stop the flow of anonymous campaign money into elections.

With North Carolina increasingly a battleground in national elections, Democrats complained that Republicans were trying to grab another political advantage and protect their initiatives to constrict ballot access.

“We’re setting up an election system that will have the potential to perpetuate voter suppression,” said Sen. Angela Bryant, a Democrat from Nash County. “In many instances when there may be a deadlock, which will be in essence a no-decision, people’s fundamental rights to vote are at stake.”

Republicans hold legislative majorities large enough to override any Cooper veto. But GOP lawmakers said they hoped the revised legislation, which also gives the elections board oversight of government ethics rules and lobbying regulations, would end one of several ongoing legal disputes with Cooper.


Follow Emery P. Dalesio at https://twitter.com/emerydalesio. His work can be found at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/emery-p-dalesio.

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