North Carolina Senate Republicans filed legislation Monday to strip Gov. Roy Cooper of power to appoint State Board of Elections members, intensifying a yearslong struggle over state government powers between the GOP-led General Assembly and the Democratic governor.
The unveiling of the bill came almost two hours after a panel Cooper created recommended changes designed to ease the current GOP dominance of University of North Carolina governing boards.
The dueling proposals escalate the clash between Cooper and the General Assembly to reshape the balance of power within government in the final weeks of the year’s main legislative session. Still, Republicans maintain the upper hand after regaining veto-proof control of the legislature in April.
North Carolina state Sen. Warren Daniel speaks on June 12, 2023, in Raleigh. Daniel is a sponsor of a bill that would move Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s appointment powers over the State Board of Elections toward General Assembly leaders. (AP Photo/Gary D. Robertson)
Republicans say having an even number of members will support consensus building on the board. They’ve complained often about the Democratic-controlled board entering a legal settlement in 2020 over absentee ballot rules that the GOP says ignored state laws.
“The voters of North Carolina should have faith that members of the Board of Elections can work together to conduct free and fair elections without any perception of bias,” Sen. Warren Daniel of Burke County, a bill sponsor, said at a Legislative Building news conference.
The bill is scheduled for committee debate Wednesday. Senate leader Phil Berger told reporters that House GOP counterparts support the state board appointment changes. The bill also would direct legislative leaders from both parties to pick four-member election boards for all 100 counties. Berger’s office said expected amendments would make the state board changes happen immediately and the county board changes effective in 2024.
Separate legislation being negotiated by House and Senate Republicans this year also would take more appointment powers away from governors on several key state boards, including state and local community college boards. GOP leaders have said more accountability and diversity of thought are needed on important boards that Cooper’s appointees control.
Speaking to unveil recommendations of a blue-ribbon commission led by former UNC system presidents Tom Ross and Margaret Spellings, Cooper said he hoped Republicans would now also consider seriously its suggestions to diversify the UNC Board of Governors and trustee boards at 16 campuses.
The commission recommended the General Assembly keep electing UNC Board of Governors members, but that lawmakers return to electing 32 members as they did for decades. The minority party in the two chambers would get to select combined eight of those members. Sixteen members would be picked from specific regions of the state. The panel also recommended that the governor get to pick four of the 15 seats on UNC campus trustee boards, but that wouldn’t take effect until January 2025, after Cooper leaves office.