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Gov. Cooper vetoes judicial district, election bills

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RALEIGH (AP) — Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's vetoes of two bills adds more uncertainty to already unusual state elections this fall for judges and in races where new political parties want to field candidates.

Cooper announced late Friday - less than three hours before a 10-day state constitutional deadline - his decision to block a pair of measures.

One adjusts many judicial election districts in Wake, Mecklenburg, Pender, and New Hanover counties. The other in part prevents the Green and Constitution parties this year from nominating for the November ballot any losing candidate primaries for the same office. The new parties didn't participate in last month's primaries and are holding nominating conventions. The Constitution Party of North Carolina was holding its convention Saturday.

That bill also requires criminal background checks for key state and county election board workers and makes more directions about how this November's elections for judicial races would be administered.

The GOP-controlled legislature already decided last fall there would be no 2018 primaries for the officially partisan races trial court and appeals court judgeships. Rather, candidates statewide begin filing Monday for the seats, with the top vote-getter for each position winning in November regardless of the number of candidates. The bill Cooper vetoed still directs each candidate's political affiliation on ballots. Cooper wants the old method of nonpartisan judicial races.

In a release announcing his vetoes, Cooper said "continued election meddling for partisan advantage weakens public confidence. Judges' races should be free of partisan labels."

As for the judicial election redistricting bill, Cooper kept to his longstanding narrative since remapping proposals began surfacing a year ago that the General Assembly is harming justice by trying to "rig the courts by reducing the people's vote."

"Piecemeal attempts to target judges create unnecessary confusion and show contempt for North Carolina's judiciary," he added.

Republicans are expected to attempt to override the vetoes next week. The GOP can override vetoes at will as long as their House and Senate caucuses remain united.

"Veto will be overridden on Tuesday," House Rules Committee David Lewis of Harnett County tweeted late Friday night. Senate leader Phil Berger wasn't immediately available for comment Saturday, spokeswoman Shelly Carver said.

Republicans have said they reworked the Mecklenburg County Superior Court districts in one vetoed bill because large population imbalances in the current districts were likely unconstitutional, but other changes went beyond that.

Authors of the other elections bill said the background checks and other security changes protected voting from outside mischief, potentially by hackers, and the "sore loser" provisions for new political parties conformed to current law preventing losing primary candidates from running as independent or write-in candidates in the fall.

The fate of the judicial legislation could force election officials to alter candidate filing in some altered districts midstream based on what laws are enacted and potential candidates may have to refile.

Add to all of this more uncertainty: a federal judge has yet to decide after a trial earlier this month over whether canceling the judicial primaries violated the constitutional rights of the Democratic Party.

Cooper has now issued 16 vetoes since taking office early last year. The General Assembly has overridden 11 of them. About 80 bills - most approved this week as the legislature seeks to adjourn for the year by the end of the month - currently sit on Cooper's desk. One of those bills makes judicial election district changes in more than 15 other counties, with some affecting this year's elections.

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