The power struggle among North Carolina’s top elected officials has been playing out in court throughout the summer, with Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, sparring against the Republican leaders of the GOP-dominated legislature.
With this year’s election now just over two months away, the state Supreme Court and a panel of federal judges have ordered the state to halt all necessary ballot preparations. The ballot has been frozen while judges attempt to resolve lawsuits over several constitutional amendments proposed by the state’s Republican leadership and a federal court ruling that deemed the state’s congressional election districts to be unconstitutional.
Last week, a panel of federal judges ruled that North Carolina’s congressional election districts had been unconstitutionally gerrymandered in favor of the Republican Party. In the ruling, the judges took issue with the fact that in the 2016 election of North Carolina’s 13 House representatives in Congress, Republicans won 53 percent of the vote but still took 10 of the 13 seats. They argued that this had occurred because the state’s congressional election districts had been drawn in a way that crammed large amounts of the state’s Democratic voters into those other three districts.
Despite last week’s ruling, it’s unlikely that the state will be able to draw new maps in time for November’s general election. It’s possible that this year’s races for those 13 seats could be removed from November’s ballot and voted on at a later date, although holding special elections at non-traditional times tends to depress voter turnout. The fate of those districts and their corresponding elections has yet to be decided at this time.
A separate ruling also handed down last week denied Cooper’s request to have two of the six constitutional amendments proposed by the legislature removed from November’s ballot. Initially, the judges had ruled in favor of Cooper’s argument that the language used to describe the amendments to voters was misleading, but they now say that there isn’t enough proof that the ballot language remains misleading after the legislature reconvened to revise that text.
The first of the two proposed amendments challenged by Cooper would limit the governor’s power in appointing judges to fill vacated seats. The amendment, if approved by voters, would establish a committee to review nominations for those seats, which would then make a recommendation to the legislature. The legislature would then be responsible for selecting two of those recommended candidates for the governor to choose from.
The other proposed amendment to draw Cooper’s ire would totally alter the makeup of the N.C. Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement. The amendment would eliminate one seat from what is currently a nine-person board and make it so that the legislature would be responsible for selecting four Republicans and four Democrats to fill the remaining eight seats.
Cooper’s lawyers have said that they plan to appeal last week’s ruling to the N.C. Supreme Court, but as of right now the two amendments will appear on November’s ballot.