NC Elections Board Is In Flux, Examining Possible Vote Tampering In Tight Congressional Race

Dec 4, 2018

Wayne Goodwin, Chairman of the North Carolina Democratic Party, talks to reporters Monday, Dec. 3, 2018, voicing support for the elections board investigation into possible vote tampering in the 9th congressional district race.
Credit Rusty Jacobs, WUNC

The only thing that  is certain about the North Carolina Elections and Ethics Enforcement Board is that it is mired in uncertainty. Its chairman just stepped down, a congressional race is in limbo, and a court-ordered change to the makeup of the board was postponed.

In October, a superior court panel ruled that a 2017 law making the board a nine-member body and taking way the governor's power to appoint its members was unconstitutional because it undermined his executive authority.

That ruling was supposed to take effect Monday, just before midnight. But the court, on its own, stayed that ruling until December 12.

That is something the North Carolina General Assembly's Republican leadership wanted, as it tries to hammer out a deal with Governor Roy Cooper's office on new legislation concerning the makeup of the elections board.

"So if the if governor were inclined to sign something quickly and in agreement, the Legislature could pass it this week and he could act," said state Sen. Dan Bishop (R-Mecklenburg), vice chairman of the senate select committee on elections.

State Sen. Dan Bishop (R-Mecklenburg).
Credit NCGA

But Governor Cooper, a Democrat, has little incentive to do anything. One, the court ruled for him, and two, the Republicans have hardly played nice since he took office.

"The Republican legislative leadership has done everything they can to not work with the governor and has tried to strip his power every way they can," said Wayne Goodwin, chairman of the North Carolina Democratic Party.

Goodwin demanded the elections board be allowed to complete its investigation into possible vote tampering in the 9th congressional district race between Republican Mark Harris and Democrat Dan McCready.

The uncertified results have Harris leading McCready by 905 votes.

A majority of the board, including two Republicans, elected to hold off on certifying until an evidentiary hearing into claims of possible tampering with absentee ballots in Bladen County. The board said the hearing would take place on or before December 21.

Senator Bishop said the allegations are troubling but he believes the number of ballots involved might not change the outcome of the race.

"If that's, in fact, the case, the board ought to get on with certifying that election. Leaving it in suspension is not an acceptable state of affairs," Bishop said.

Goodwin said that's besides the point, especially with GOP lawmakers pushing voter ID in the name of election integrity.

"The hypocrisy is unmistakable. North Carolina voters deserve to know that their right to freely and fairly cast their ballot is safe," said Goodwin.

On top of all that, Democrat Andy Penry has stepped down as chairman of the elections board amid claims he posted inappropriate partisan statements on Twitter.