Three-Judge Panel Explains why it Halted Ballot Preparations Until Aug. 31 | Eastern North Carolina Now

The three-judge Superior Court panel reviewing two lawsuits on proposed constitutional amendments explained Monday why it put a halt until Aug. 31 on preparing and printing ballots for the Nov. 6 election

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    Publisher's note: The author of this post is Dan Way, who is an associate editor for the Carolina Journal, John Hood Publisher.

    The three-judge Superior Court panel reviewing two lawsuits on proposed constitutional amendments explained Monday why it put a halt until Aug. 31 on preparing and printing ballots for the Nov. 6 election. The court cited the complexity of the two lawsuits before them, the brief time it had to issue a final order, and likely appeals.

    Federal law requires ballots to be distributed 45 days before the election. The court anticipates an appeal of any decision it eventually issues, and it did not want the Bipartisan State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement to print ballots that may have to be redone if the panel's decision were overturned.

    The panel didn't issue temporary restraining orders or preliminary injunctions requested by Gov. Roy Cooper, who is challenging two proposed amendments, and by the N.C. Conference of the NAACP and Clean Air Carolina, which are challenging four amendments. The plaintiffs want the amendments removed from the ballot. They claim the ballot language is misleading, the amendments would upset constitutional separation of powers, and they would shift appointments from the governor to the legislature.

    House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, and Senate Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, are named as defendants in the cases. So is the elections board, though it is siding with the plaintiffs in the cases.

    A hearing was held on both lawsuits Aug. 15.

    "It would not serve the public interest for the Board to begin preparing, printing, and testing the ballots before this Court enters its ultimate order on the parties' motions," the order said.

    "If the Board began preparing the ballots, then the Court later entered an order that affected the content of the ballot, the Board would be required to restarts its process, wasting the public resources that had been spent on the process before that time," the order said. "The Court intends to enter its ultimate order on the parties' motions as soon as possible."

    Ballots must be available for absentee voting 60 days before an election, meaning they'd need to be ready by Sept. 7. The elections board said it needs 21 days to prepare, print, and test the ballots, so the process should have started Aug. 17. The court has the authority to reduce the 60-day state mandate to 45, which would match federal requirements.

    The court issued the order Friday and released it about 4:30 Monday afternoon. It was signed by presiding Judge Forrest Bridges, with the consent of Judges Thomas Lock and Jeffery Carpenter.

    The order is set to expire Aug. 31, but could end earlier, depending on further actions by the panel or an appellate court.
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