Karl B. DeBlaker/AP
RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina Republicans on Tuesday passed restrictions on vote counting and weakened the governor’s ability to oversee elections and other state regulatory agencies by overriding the Democratic governor’s vetoes. Roy Cooper. Lawsuits aimed at blocking the new laws are likely as the 2024 election approaches.
In a series of votes, the razor-thin Republican majorities in the House and Senate overrode five of Cooper’s vetoes, two of which concerned elections and voting in the ninth-largest state — a likely presidential battleground where Statewide races are usually very close.
One bill would eliminate the governor’s power to appoint the State Board of Elections and put it in the hands of legislative leaders, while the other would end the three-day grace period for receiving and counting absentee ballots, provided that they are postmarked on election day.
Those laws — years in the making after Cooper’s previous vetoes or lawsuits blocked legislation with similar provisions — advanced this year thanks to Republican seat gains in the 2022 elections and party switching in April by a Democrat from the House of Representatives to the Republican Party.
The election changes are part of a wave of GOP voting laws and administrative overhauls that took place as former President Donald Trump, who is seeking a return to the White House, repeatedly made false claims that the 2020 elections were riddled with fraud.
While Trump won electoral votes in North Carolina in 2016 and 2020, Democrats see the state as a takeover opportunity for President Joe Biden in 2024.
North Carolina Republican lawmakers who advanced the bills focused not on Trump’s grievances, but rather on arguments that the legislation would foster bipartisan consensus in election administration and improve public trust in the election results.
But Cooper and his allies argue that the voting legislation is an attack on voting that will give Republicans the advantage in close results.
The state election board has five members, with the governor’s party historically holding three of the seats. Starting Jan. 1, the board will consist of eight members, chosen by legislative leaders from both major parties and likely creating a 4-4 split between Democrats and Republicans.
Critics say these changes will lead to gridlock on the board, which will reduce the number of local in-person early voting sites and could send contested election results to the courts or the General Assembly for consideration. they are settled.
The law says the new state board would also have barely a week to decide whether to keep current state elections executive director Karen Brinson Bell or hire someone else. If the board fails to reach a decision, the decision would fall to Senate Republican leader Phil Berger.
Republicans were unhappy with Brinson Bell – hired by the Democratic majority in 2019 – for her role in a legal settlement that extended the deadline in 2020 for receiving and counting mailed ballot envelopes postmarked by the date of the election, from three days after the election. election nine days away.
An omnibus voting law, also passed Tuesday, would partially eliminate that three-day window and instead require that mailed ballots be received by county election offices before the end of in-person voting, at 7:30 p.m., Election Day. count.
The omnibus measure also prohibits officials from accepting private money to administer elections and directs state courts to notify election officials of the disqualification of potential jurors because they are not U.S. citizens, so that They can then be removed from the electoral rolls.
The law provides new tolerances for partisan election observers and tightens the rules under which a person who registers to vote and votes during the state’s 17-day in-person early voting period can have their votes counted. choice.
Marc Elias, a Democratic lawyer, said on social media that North Carolina would be sued if the omnibus measure becomes law, which he called a “voter suppression bill.” State courts may not be as litigation-friendly, as the majority of the state Supreme Court now consists of registered Republicans.
Another new law, passed Tuesday, reduces or eliminates the power of Cooper and future governors to appoint members to several other boards and commissions, including those that set electric rates and environmental regulations. And an energy bill intended to encourage nuclear power generation and the legislature’s annual “regulatory reform” measure also now have the force of law.
Other Republican-controlled legislatures have taken action against early voting – shortening mail-in ballot return deadlines, banning or limiting the use of drop boxes, and criminalizing ballot collection. third-party voting. Last month, the GOP-controlled Wisconsin Senate voted to fire the state’s elections administrator over decisions made by the state’s election board during the 2020 election. A lawsuit challenging this action is in progress.