Cooper vetoes Republican effort to delay primary election

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed a bill Republicans that called for a three-week primary election delay--a move that could benefit Democrats by giving the GOP less time to redraw maps ahead of the 2022 election

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Bryan Anderson
, WRAL statehouse reporter
RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper has vetoed a bill that would have delayed the state’s primary election by another three weeks.
The proposal that Republican lawmakers advanced last week was intended to ensure the GOP had ample time to redraw voting maps if the state Supreme Court decided to strike down recently approved legislative and congressional boundaries that heavily favor Republicans.

"This bill is an additional attempt by Republican legislators to control the election timeline and undermine the voting process,” Cooper wrote in a veto message Friday afternoon. “The constitutionality of congressional and legislative districts is now in the hands of the North Carolina Supreme Court and the Court should have the opportunity to decide how much time is needed to ensure that our elections are constitutional."

The proposal was approved along party lines in both chambers of the state legislature last week. Republicans lack the support of Democrats that would be required to override Cooper’s decision.

In a statement, GOP House Speaker Tim Moore called the effort to delay the election "a reasonable measure" designed to "ensure a thorough and constitutional process." He accused the Democratic governor of making a decision to benefit his own political party.

"(Cooper) wants to sow chaos and confusion in the hopes that the Supreme Court will usurp the constitutional duty of the General Assembly to the benefit of his Democrat allies," Moore wrote.

The high court will hear the case Wednesday. State elections officials have said finalized maps must be in place by Feb. 18 to maintain the current May 17 primary schedule.

If the North Carolina Supreme Court rules against Republicans after Feb. 18 or shortly ahead of that date, Republicans fear they could effectively lose control over the process. State law requires lawmakers to have at least two weeks to redraw maps.

The court, which has a 4-3 Democratic majority, could also decide on its own to again push back the primaries. Last month, the court delayed the election by 10 weeks, from March 8 to May 17, so that a complaint brought by voting rights groups could be heard ahead of the 2022 election.

If the Supreme Court votes in favor of Republican mapmakers or issues an evenly split ruling, the voting maps the GOP passed last fall would remain in place.

A panel of three Wake County Superior Court judges, including two registered Republicans and one registered Democrat, unanimously decided to let the maps remain, even though they found evidence of “pro-Republican partisan redistricting.”

Democratic lawmakers opposing the GOP effort to delay the primary argue the high court’s decision should come before any further election delays are considered. They’ve also expressed concern with the June 7 date Republicans proposed since school is still in session in many places that would also operate as voting locations, creating possible logistical challenges.

Some Democrats also don’t trust Republicans to redraw a map fairly.

Cooper’s veto likely improves Democrats’ chances of seeing an independent expert appointed to handle a potential redraw process because Republicans may not be able to meet a narrow Feb. 18 deadline if the Supreme Court strikes down the new voting maps, takes a while to issue its ruling and doesn’t delay the primaries. Under the GOP proposal the governor rejected, Republicans would have faced less pressure to quickly pass updated maps.

The voting maps that Republicans approved in November did not require the signature of the state’s Democratic governor.

The GOP holds an 8-5 advantage over Democrats in the U.S. House. Under the newly passed congressional map, the nonpartisan Princeton Gerrymandering Project predicts Republicans would likely win 11 of the 14 seats up for grabs. Only one of the newly drawn districts is highly competitive, while two others that favor GOP candidates are somewhat competitive.

Meanwhile, the new legislative maps bolster Republicans’ prospects of regaining a veto-proof majority in the state House and Senate.

An already postponed primary has created problems for some candidates. The delay is forcing candidates to adjust their strategies and stretch their campaign dollars. It has also given new candidates time to enter races.
Former North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, who is seeking the Republican Party’s U.S. Senate nomination, told The Associated Press in an interview last month that he would have entered the race later had he planned for a May primary. He’s in a close race with U.S. Rep. Ted Budd, who has received backing from a powerful Washington, D.C., political action committee and former President Donald Trump.
Meanwhile, former “American Idol” star Clay Aiken entered a crowded U.S. House field after the Supreme Court delayed the election by 10 weeks, thus giving him more time to mull a run.

“The delays are going to shift your strategies and your tactics,” said Doug Heye, a longtime GOP advisor and former Republican National Committee communications director. “Fundraising is where that’s really key because you’re going to need more money raised for a longer fight.”


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