RALEIGH — The N.C. General Assembly said they will override Governor Roy Cooper’s vetoes of two pieces of legislation passed in the special legislative session earlier this week.
“The governor’s outlandish claim that labeling proposed constitutional amendments as ‘Constitutional Amendments,’ and conforming the filing requirements for judicial candidates to every other public office in the state, is somehow “rigging the system” is a poor attempt to protect political gamesmanship by his party. We will override these vetoes to deliver clear and consistent voter information on ballots this November,” Senate Leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore said in a joint statement following the Friday vetoes.
One of the pieces of legislation directs that the short titles of six constitutional amendments appear on voter ballots in the November midterm elections, without additional captions to explain the proposed amendments. Republican leaders said they came back into session because they heard the Democrat-led commission charged with writing the captions were planning to word them with slanted descriptions.
“We got wind that instead of just drafting up neutral captions for these amendments, captions that made sense, we got wind that the secretary of state and the attorney general were going to draw up pejorative captions — captions that may lend someone to say, ‘Well, I don’t want to vote for that,’” said Rep. Nelson Dollar (R-Wake).
“You would think that this would be a fairly simple thing to do, that someone wouldn’t play politics with it, but that’s where we’re at,” said Dollar.
Secretary of State Elaine Marshall is on that commission with fellow-democrat Josh Stein. She said she was “astonished” that lawmakers came back to change the commissions’ charge and wrote a letter to Moore and Berger saying that she has had no political pressure over the captions.
“I have had no outside groups or pressure tactics aimed at me or applied to me. None. If either of the other two commissioners have received such pressure they have not indicated such to me. In any case, I am publicly stating that it has not happened to me,” Marshall wrote in the letter.
The legislature is operating under a tight deadline – The N.C. State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement has to have finalized language by August 8 to start working on the ballots. Lawmakers said that the commission was not planning to meet until August, leaving Republicans no time to react if partisan language biasing voters against the amendments were added.
Cooper vetoed the measure on Friday saying, “This bill compounds those problems by stopping additional information that may more accurately describe the proposed amendments on the ballot. Voters should not be further misled about the sweeping changes the General Assembly wants to put in the constitution.”
Republican leaders say the short titles are the only information needed. They include:
“The General Assembly already approved short titles of the constitutional amendments that accurately describe their impact and must prevent outside attempts to politicize what should be a quick and straightforward administrative process by the commission,” Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) said in a statement.
If the legislature overrides the veto early next week, House Bill 3 “would remove the requirement of short descriptive captions on the ballot with respect to referendum questions for proposed amendments to the North Carolina Constitution.”
It would also “require the words ‘Constitutional Amendment’ prior to setting forth the referendum question in lieu of a short caption. The Constitutional Amendments Publication Commission would no longer be required to prepare a short caption for use on the ballot.”
The other gubernatorial veto on Friday was of a piece of legislation that flew through both chambers on Tuesday and would require that judicial candidates be affiliated with the party on their filing paperwork for at least 90 days prior to filing for office. The measure appears to be a response to the race for the N.C. Supreme Court in which Republican candidate Chris Anglin is challenging incumbent Republican Justice Barbara Jackson for a seat on the high court. Anglin was a registered Democrat until a few weeks before changing his registration and filing to run.
In a statement released Tuesday, Anglin called the legislation “cowardice” and an example of the “shenanigans” that led him to run in the first place. Anglin is a Raleigh lawyer who was a Democrat until he switched his party affiliation to Republican on June 7, and then filed his candidacy for the court at the end of June.
Cooper vetoed the measure on Friday saying, “Changing the rules for candidates after the filing has closed is unlawful and wrong, especially when the motive is to rig a contest after it is already underway. All judge elections should be free of partisanship, and continued undermining of these elections creates confusion and shows contempt for the judiciary.”
Lawmakers say that candidates who change their party affiliation right before filing for office mislead voters. They have scheduled to return to session on Monday. The Senate is scheduled to convene at 10 a.m. and the House at 2 p.m.