|The repeatedly altered composition of North Carolina's elections board returned to court Thursday as a proxy for the lengthy power struggle between Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and the Republican-dominated legislature.
A panel of three trial judges listened for over three hours but didn't immediately rule on the request by Cooper's lawyers to throw out a third iteration of a combined elections and ethics board. Structures of two earlier versions created by GOP lawmakers previously have been declared unconstitutional.
GOP lawmakers and Cooper have been embroiled in litigation and political disputes since Cooper was elected governor in 2016. Lawmakers have passed several bills that eroded Cooper's powers. The board is important because its members can approve early-voting sites that could affect election turnout. They can also assess campaign finance penalties and determine ethics law violations.
Republicans argue their latest attempt — the current nine-member board chosen by Cooper, with four Democrats, four Republicans and a ninth who can't be a member of either party — passes constitutional muster.
But Jim Phillips, a Cooper lawyer, told the judges the new board structure suffers the same flaws as the other versions because it still usurps the governor's constitutional duty to ensure state election laws are faithfully executed. While Cooper appoints the entire board, Phillips said, he only has strong influence over the four Democratic choices, picked from a list provided by the state Democratic Party.