NC governor says he won't appoint interim elections board

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) said Wednesday that he will not appoint an interim state elections board, citing the state Republican Party’s refusal to put forward nominees for the panel.

Under current state law, Cooper is required to name five members to the North Carolina State Board of Elections — in this case, three Democrats and two Republicans — chosen from a list of potential nominees provided by both parties.

Cooper’s office said in a statement that the state Democratic Party had turned over a list of names, but that the chairman of the North Carolina GOP, Robin Hayes, declined to do so. In turn, Cooper decided against appointing only three Democratic members, his office said.

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The dispute over the elections board is likely to impact an ongoing investigation into alleged fraud in the House race for North Carolina’s 9th District.

Republican Mark HarrisMark HarrisThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democrats clash over future of party in heated debate Why my American Indian tribe voted Republican in NC's special election North Carolina race raises 2020 red flags for Republicans, Democrats MORE currently leads Democrat Dan McCready in that race by 905 votes. But claims that a contractor for Harris’s campaign paid workers to illegally collect absentee ballots in two counties prompted state election officials to decline to certify Harris as the winner.

Cooper’s office accused the state Republican Party of trying to obstruct the ongoing fraud investigation, saying that the failure to provide a list of potential nominees would effectively “derail” a scheduled Jan. 11 hearing on the matter.

“All North Carolinians deserve to have confidence in a system of voting that ensures honest and fair elections,” Cooper said in a statement.

“If politicians and the people they hire are manipulating the system to steal elections, all of us should pull together to get to the bottom of it and stop it — regardless of whether the candidate who finished ahead in a tainted election is a Republican or a Democrat,” he said.

Hayes, the North Carolina Republican Party chairman, defended the party's actions, saying they take "their obligations under the law and State Constitution seriously."

"Our unwillingness to participate in the creation of an unlawful 'interim' State Board of Elections results from a desire to ensure that any future investigation surrounding the Ninth Congressional District election is open, fair, and transparent, and not tainted by actions taken by an illegal board," Hayes said in a statement.

"The unlawful suggestion by the Governor only served to further erode public confidence in our election system."

Cooper’s announcement that he will not appoint anyone to the board is the latest in a string of complications for the state's elections panels.

Last year, a three-judge panel ruled a nine-member version of the board that had been in place since 2016 unconstitutional and ordered it to disband. The board continued to operate for weeks on temporary requests to delay enforcement of the court order.

Last week, however, the panel of judges rejected an appeal for another stay. The North Carolina State Board of Elections formally dissolved Friday.

A law approved by the North Carolina General Assembly last month establishes a new five-member election board. That law is set to take effect Jan. 31.

But with the race in North Carolina’s 9th District still unresolved, Cooper said Friday that he would appoint an interim elections board to address the matter in the meantime. His announcement on Wednesday effectively leaves the status of the Jan. 11 hearing uncertain.

Cooper’s office said Wednesday that the governor had “envisioned appointing the same people to both Boards — the current one and the one to be formed Jan. 31.”

The state elections board will ultimately be responsible for determining if the results of the race between Harris and McCready were marred significantly by fraud and whether a new election in the 9th District is warranted.

“Quickly rooting out real election fraud should be a bipartisan effort,” Cooper said in the statement. “Today in North Carolina, we have a Board of Elections with five empty chairs because Republicans are blocking the way.”

-- Updated at 5:40 p.m.