The clock has almost run out for ballot litigation, but in what seems to have become true North Carolina fashion, there will likely be more delay.
There were five pending lawsuits that could affect the November ballot — now there are three. Lawmakers had tried to address some court issues by rewriting two of the six proposed constitutional amendments in question but have just come under more legal fire. The courts and parties to all litigation had been operating under the assumption that ballot preparation and printing needed to begin Saturday to comply with federal absentee voting standards. However, the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement released a statement Wednesday that its staff was exploring more options in case of continued delay.
The State Board is currently enjoined from ballot preparation by a federal court order and a state Supreme Court order. It’s unknown when the process can resume. In the spirit of rewriting things, here is an updated guide to where the three pending cases stand and what happened to the other three cases:
Anglin v. State Board and Edwards v. State Board:
Christopher Anglin and Rebecca Edwards prevailed in their quest to keep their party labels on the November ballot.
Both are judicial candidates — Anglin is running as a Republican for a seat on the state Supreme Court and Edwards is running as a Democrat for a Wake County District Court seat. Both were affiliated with the opposite party before filing as candidates for this year’s elections. Lawmakers had passed a retroactive law requiring a 90-day party affiliation, but the courts ruled it violated Anglin’s and Edwards’ constitutional rights.
Lawmakers then appealed to the state Court of Appeals and requested a stay of the lower court’s order but they were denied. They did not seek appellate review to the state Supreme Court, which means Anglin and Edwards will appear on the ballot with their chosen party labels. The other two judicial candidates affected by the retroactive law also will appear with their chosen party labels, since the State Board agreed to treat them the same as Anglin and Edwards.
Cooper v. Berger, et al.:
Gov. Roy Cooper filed an amended lawsuit Thursday over two new constitutional amendments after the state Supreme Court declined to intervene in his expanded request for appellate review.
Cooper won his first lawsuit over two constitutional amendments affecting the separation of powers that he alleged were misleading to voters. Lawmakers called a special session and rewrote the amendments. The new amendments restructure the current State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement and enshrine the body into the constitution and also transfer judicial vacancy appointment power from the Governor to the General Assembly.
Cooper states in his amended lawsuit that the ballot language for both amendments is false and misleading to voters and asks the courts to block them from being put before the public for a vote. The same three-judge panel that was assigned to his original lawsuit has been reappointed to hear the renewed arguments in a hearing today.
Supreme Court order sending Cooper back to lower court
NC NAACP and Clean Air Carolina v. Moore, et al.:
The North Carolina NAACP and Clean Air Carolina sued lawmakers over four constitutional amendments — the same two initial ones Cooper sued over plus the income tax cap amendment and an amendment requiring a photo identification to vote. The judges ruled that Clean Air Carolina did not have standing to sue, but ruled in favor of the NAACP on the same two amendments on which Cooper was successful. The NAACP appealed the decision to allow the other two amendments to move forward to the ballot to the state Supreme Court. Like Cooper, the NAACP also expanded its request to have the high court review the two rewritten constitutional amendments, but they similarly were sent back down to the lower court. The organization has not yet filed a new lawsuit.
Poindexter et al. v. Strach:
Four members of the newly recognized North Carolina Constitution Party and the party as a whole sued the State Board after it permitted the members to appear as candidates on the ballot but then removed them because of a retroactive law promulgated by the General Assembly. They filed in federal court in the Eastern District of North Carolina and prevailed on their arguments that the retroactive law violated their constitutional rights. The plaintiffs are James Poindexter of Surry County and Jerry Jones of Greene County and Gregory Holt of Craven County. They will all appear on the November ballot as the State Board has not yet appealed, and lawmakers have not intervened in the case.
League of Women Voters v. Rucho and Common Cause v. Rucho:
In a surprise move this week, a federal three-judge panel reaffirmed its decision from January striking down all 13 of the state’s congressional districts as unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders.
In considering a remedy, the panel warned it could order the General Assembly to draw a new map and then hold a general election without a primary. The judges could also give lawmakers another bite at the apple to redraw the map themselves, but noted they were hesitant to do so.
They had also asked all parties in the case to submit the names of qualified special masters to the court for appointment given their uncertainty and the tight time frame involved. The parties, however, submitted a document Wednesday stating they could not agree on any names — the same thing happened in a recent racial gerrymandering case.
The parties in the case must submit briefs today addressing what remedy the court should implement to correct the years-old constitutional violations.