Elections agency vows to continue day-to-day operations after directive from Governor's Office

Updated: Jan. 31, 2018 at 7:54 PM EST
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RALEIGH, NC (WBTV) - Staff at the North Carolina State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement has vowed to continue day-to-day operations of the agency days after a letter from Governor Roy Cooper's office directing the agency to refrain from taking "substantive action" with regard to election or ethics law.

The letter from Cooper's office, sent Monday by Will McKinney, Cooper's general counsel, came in the wake of an opinion handed down by the North Carolina Supreme Court that struck down a law passed by legislative Republicans in the wake of Cooper's gubernatorial win that changed the make-up of the state's elections board.

The ruling issued by the North Carolina Supreme Court found the sitting governor must have the ability to control the board of elections.

"Until a final judgement is entered by the trial court, the staff of the State Board must halt all activity relating to, or in support of, the merger of the State Board of Elections and the State Ethics Commission," McKinney's letter said.

PREVIOUS STORY: Governor's Office orders NC elections board to refrain from 'substantive action' after court ruling

"Moreover, the staff should refrain from taking any substantive action with respect to elections or ethics law policy decisions," McKinney continued. "The Supreme Court has unambiguously held that the Governor must be able to 'affirmatively implement' his own 'policy decisions' in this area."

Josh Lawson, general counsel for the NCSBE, responded to McKinney's letter on Wednesday.

"Board members, not staff, establish Agency policy, and elections administration since June 2017 has continued consistent with directives previously issued by the Board," Lawson wrote, pointing out that issues that would have ordinarily been decided by the board had been resolved by the Wake County Superior Court.

Document: Read Lawson's response to Cooper's office

Lawson's letter also articulated his agency's position that it would continue carrying out clerical and administrative tasks as required by law or legal rulings.

"Operation of the day-to-day functions regarding elections, campaign finance, ethics compliance remain ongoing," Lawson wrote. "The Agency's civil staff continue in service to our State consistent with Board policies and will undertake no effort to avoid any order effectuating the decision of our Supreme Court."

A spokesman for the NCSBE did not immediately respond to an inquiry asking if the agency would comment beyond Lawson's letter.

Cooper's press office has yet to respond to multiple requests for comment submitted by WBTV regarding McKinney's letter.

The back-and-forth between the Governor's Office and staff at the elections board comes as attorneys for Cooper have asked the Supreme Court to speed up the legal process to implement its opinion released late last week giving the Governor control of the elections board.

On Monday, attorneys for Cooper asked the Supreme Court to issue the mandate for its opinion - the legal process by which a court's ruling takes effect - "as soon as practicable" and to dissolve a stay previously entered by the Court.

Republican leaders in the North Carolina General Assembly were quick to criticize the move from Cooper's office regarding the elections board on Monday.

Representative David Lewis (R-Harnett), chairman of the House Committee on Election and Ethics Laws, issued the following statement Monday:

"Governor Roy Cooper has wasted no time in attempting to seize control of the independent Board of Elections agency charged with investigating his campaign and administration for corruption. The expediency in which Cooper is demanding power should give pause to North Carolinians and non-partisan observers as to the true intentions of his partisan motives. Perhaps he should slow down until further guidance from the court before he tries to usurp more power."

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