Collusive settlement bill vetoed by Cooper

FILE - In this Sept. 3, 2020, file photo, workers prepare absentee ballots for mailing at the Wake County Board of Elections in Raleigh, N.C. A lawyer for North Carolina's State Board of Elections said Friday, Oct. 16 that time is running out to process 10,000 absentee ballots with incomplete witness information and other errors after state and federal judges put additional freezes on the process. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome, File)

RALEIGH — Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed a measure that would limit the power of North Carolina’s attorney general to participate in collusive settlement agreements where the General Assembly is a party to a lawsuit.

Senate Bill 360 became Gov. Cooper’s 64th veto since assuming office in 2017 and his 11th in 2021. He now holds 65% of all vetoes issued by North Carolina governors. It is unclear at this point if the legislature will attempt a veto override.

Cooper said in a veto message that, “This bill is unconstitutional and unwise, and would prevent the Attorney General from doing his job to protect the people of North Carolina.”

SB 360 came in response to a secret settlement entered into by the N.C. State Board of Elections (NCSBE) and Democratic-aligned activist groups that effectively rewrote state election laws while absentee voting was underway, just 41 days before the 2020 election. The bill would have applied only to future lawsuits.

In a tactic used in North Carolina and other states, left-leaning attorneys sought to enact changes in the 2020 elections without legislative approval. The changes included expanded absentee by-mail voting, eliminating witness requirements and signature verification for mailed ballots, establishing “drop boxes” for completed ballots, and extending the deadline for mailed ballots to arrive at county boards of election.

The agreement was called “secret” and “collusive” by lawmakers because although they were a party to the lawsuit, they were not informed about the agreement. It was only after a judge signed off on the agreement that lawmakers became aware of it.

“Attorney General Josh Stein and Gov. Cooper’s handpicked elections director secretly negotiated with a Democratic law firm to change the rules of the 2020 election after voting began,” said state Sen. Paul Newton (R-Cabarrus) in a statement. “This bill is necessary to keep corrosive, secretly negotiated rule changes out of future. Gov. Cooper just deepened distrust in the electoral process at a time when we should focus on improving it.”

If it became law, SB 360 would have required the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate to sign off on a consent judgement or settlement agreement in a dispute, claim or controversy in which they are named or have previously intervened.