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Roy Cooper Plans To Sue After General Assembly Overrides 2 Vetoes

Gov. Roy Cooper

North Carolina Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper contends ballot language approved by Republican lawmakers describing two proposed constitutional amendments are so false and misleading the courts must prevent voting on them.

Cooper's office announced Saturday he would sue Monday in Wake County court to block two of the six amendment referendums set for this fall's ballots. Public disclosure of the litigation came hours after the General Assembly overrode Cooper's veto of a measure taking from a state panel the job of writing titles for the six questions.

The North Carolina legislature overrode Cooper's vetoes of two bills Republicans approved that instructed some wording voters will see on November ballots atop constitution amendments and in a key judicial race.

The House and Senate conducted rare weekend business to dispose of the vetoes, which were the only bills approved during a nearly two-week special session, before adjourning in about an hour.

The fates of the bills — House Bill 3 and Senate Bill 3 weren't in doubt given the GOP's veto-proof majorities — the Senate overrode both vetoes 28-12, while House votes were 70-39. The measures address alterations to ballots mere days before election officials must send them to printers.

Although Republicans argue that Saturday's laws will decrease confusion for voters, Democrats said GOP legislators are using them to hide from the public goals to consolidate Republican power within the legislative branch and help a state Supreme Court justice win re-election. Two of the six constitutional amendments on the ballots would shift powers from Cooper and future governors to the legislature.

One measure becoming law Saturday took away from a three-member state panel the job of putting titles above each amendment question before voters. Instead, the bill puts identical, generic captions on them. Republicans said they were concerned the Democratic members of the panel — Secretary of State Elaine Marshall and Attorney General Josh Stein — would write negative titles, discouraging their passage.

Republican leaders held a news conference and said sharp public critiques by Stein and Marshall last week of the language for the referendums confirmed the title legislation was justified.

Democrats "do not trust the voters to be able to understand the plain language and plain words that are put before them," said Rep. David Lewis, a Harnett County Republican and bill sponsor.

The other measure prevents Supreme Court candidate Chris Anglin, who recently switched his Democratic affiliation to Republican, from having any party label next to his name on the ballot. Republicans emphasized Saturday the restriction would apply to three other lower court candidates who changed affiliations less than 90 days before candidate filing.

"This legislation is necessary to prevent someone from masquerading as a member of different party in an effort to sway the outcome of the election," said bill sponsor Sen. Ralph Hise, a Mitchell County Republican.

Still, the change is squarely centered upon Anglin, who Republicans fear could take votes from GOP Associate Justice Barbara Jackson, helping Democratic challenger Anita Earls. Party affiliations for Earls and Jackson will be on ballots. Democrats hold a 4-3 majority on the court. Anglin has vowed to sue to challenge this restriction if it became law.

"You shouldn't be able to change the rules after the game has started," House Minority Leader Darren Jackson of Wake County said during floor debate.

Cooper said after the overrides it's "shameful" Republican legislators are focusing on "attempting to rip up our constitution" instead of focus on education and the economy.

“This is about falsely and unconstitutionally misleading voters and crippling the checks and balances that are the foundation of our democracy," Cooper said in a statement. "It is shameful that legislators have spent their time deceiving North Carolinians and attempting to rip up our constitution instead of improving public education and growing our economy.”

About 30 people who wanted Cooper's vetoes upheld demonstrated outside the Legislative Building on Saturday morning.

The General Assembly has now overridden 20 of Cooper's 25 vetoes since he took office in early 2017.

State election officials have said ballots need to be finalized by this coming week.

State Sen. Joel Ford (D-38), who represents north and parts of west Charlotte, was the lone Democrat to vote in favor of the veto override. Ford lost his primary in May to Mujtaba A. Mohammed.