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Republicans complete veto overrides on 2 election-bills

RALEIGH (AP) Two election-related bills became North Carolina law June 20, despite Gov. Roy Cooper’s formal objections, as lawmakers completed overriding his vetoes.

The House voted by nearly identical party-line margins to override Cooper’s vetoes and enact the Republican-authored bills, essentially copying what the Senate did the day before.

One new law altering judicial election districts in four counties could force about 10 judicial candidates who had already entered races affected by the law to either refile or withdraw. The other law could force a new political party to reconsider a few candidates it nominated last weekend or go to court to challenge the law.

The judicial district measure redraws Superior Court election district boundaries in Mecklenburg County to address population imbalances in the previous election districts that GOP lawmakers called unconstitutional. But District Court judges also will no longer be elected countywide in both Mecklenburg and Wake counties. Voters in the state’s two largest counties now will elect only a few District Court judges based on where they live.

Cooper’s veto message late last week said Republicans were attempting to “rig the courts by reducing the people’s vote,” and that the piecemeal district changes created “unnecessary confusion and show contempt for North Carolina’s judiciary.”

Democratic legislators argued eliminating countywide voting in Wake and Mecklenburg will help Republican judges win more seats in counties that are trending Democratic.

“There’s nothing to explain for this except for politics,” House Minority Leader Darren Jackson of Wake County said. But Republicans said it was too much to ask of District Court candidates to run countywide when both Wake and Mecklenburg both have over 1 million residents.

“It’s hard for people to know who they’re voting for,” said Rep. Nelson Dollar, a Wake County Republican, calling the measure “an excellent measure for the administration of justice in this state.”

The other vetoed bill prevents the new Green and Constitution parties from nominating for the fall general election any candidate who lost in a May primary race for the same office. The Constitution Party nominated 10 legislative and county candidates at its convention last week, but three now appear to be disqualified because they lost in Democratic or Republican primaries last month.

The Constitution Party of North Carolina didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment June 20, but a top leader said earlier this month the provision would be challenged in court.

Cooper’s opposition to this bill focused on a provision directing election officials to place the political affiliation of each judicial candidate next to their names of the November ballots. State law already makes elections for trial and appellate court races officially partisan affairs, with parties holding primaries to choose nominees. But legislators previously decided to cancel primaries for this year only, so this fall, all the candidates will run together and the top vote-getter is elected.

Cooper, who wants to revert to nonpartisan races, said in his veto message that Republicans were meddling in elections and that “judges’ races should be free of partisan labels.”

On the House floor, Rep. David Lewis of Harnett County instead noted that the bill calls for background checks and security requirements for elections-related equipment.

“Overriding this veto is the only choice we have to protect our ballots from foreign and domestic hacking threats this fall,” Lewis said.

With the most recent vote, the Republican-controlled legislature has overridden 13 of the 16 vetoes Cooper has issued since taking office in early 2017.

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