Cooper vetoes elections bill, signs budget changes

Eamon Queeney—The North State Journal
People head into a polling place at the Wake County Board of Elections in downtown Raleigh .

RALEIGH — Republican lawmakers at the General Assembly are saying that Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of an elections bill Monday is based on rumors, not the bill language. Cooper vetoed H.B. 656, which made it easier for third party candidates to get on N.C. ballots and eliminated the 2018 judicial primaries. Cooper, a Democrat, said it was the first step toward the legislature trying to appoint judges rather than have them elected.

“This legislation abolishes a scheduled election and takes away the right of the people to vote for the judges of their choice,” Cooper said in a press release. “It is the first step toward a constitutional amendment that will rig the system so that the legislature picks everybody’s judges in every district instead of letting the people vote for the judges they want. If the legislature doesn’t like the fact that judges are ruling many of their laws unconstitutional, they should change their ways instead of their judges.”

Republican lawmakers say it isn’t so.

They say the bill will boost third party participation in elections. According to data released from the Bipartisan State Board of Elections & Ethics Enforcement last month, unaffiliated voters are now the second largest voting group in the state. They also say the bill allows time for a much-needed study and overhaul of the state’s judicial districts.

“The rumors Gov. Cooper cited to justify his veto aren’t in this bill, which simply gives lawmakers time to conduct the thorough and deliberate study of North Carolina’s judicial elections that groups across the political spectrum — including members of our judiciary — have repeatedly called for,” said Senate Select Committee on Elections Chairman Ralph Hise (R-Mitchell). “I hope my colleagues will override his veto.”

The measure reduces the number of signatures required for third party candidates and unaffiliated candidates to run. It also makes other changes to the rules in N.C. about third parties running for office, including pushing off the candidate filing deadline until June. Republicans say that increasing third party participation would reduce the need for low-turnout second primaries.

“It’s unsurprising that the plurality winner of the closest gubernatorial election in North Carolina history is afraid for voters to have more choices at the ballot box,” said House Committee on Elections & Ethics Law Chairman David Lewis (R-Harnett) in a statement.

 

“This legislation makes needed, nonpartisan reforms to our ballot access laws and gives judicial candidates the time they need to analyze any forthcoming changes to judicial maps that the General Assembly may make,” he added.

Also on Monday, Cooper signed into law S.B. 582, a bill that makes some changes and technical corrections to the state budget. Among them is continuing the annual $30 million tax credit for the film industry, which was scheduled to sunset on July 1, 2020.