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Madison Cawthorn is not out of the woods yet on voter challenge

Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C., is seen here at the State of the Union address at the U.S. Capitol on March 1, 2022.
Saul Loeb
Getty Images
Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C., is seen here at the State of the Union address at the U.S. Capitol on March 1, 2022.

These days, U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn probably is focused on his crowded GOP primary in North Carolina's 11th Congressional District.

The freshman congressman has the endorsement of former President Donald Trump but also must navigate missteps like his citation for driving with a revoked license and calling the universally admired Ukrainian Pres. Volodymyr Zelensky a "thug."

Now, he might have to face a voter challenge to his candidacy — a challenge that had been blocked last month by a Trump-appointed federal district court judge.

The 11th-District voters say Cawthorn should be disqualified from running for office again because he violated Section 3, of the U.S. Constitution's 14th Amendment.

Adopted after the Civil War, this section prohibits a government official from running if they previously swore an oath to the Constitution and subsequently engaged in an insurrection.

The voter group alleges Cawthorn did just that by promoting Donald Trump's baseless claims the 2020 presidential election was stolen, and by speaking at the Jan. 6, 2021, rally just before Trump supporters stormed the Capitol to try and stop Congress's certification of Pres. Joe Biden's electoral victory.

Last month, Judge Richard Myers, of North Carolina's Eastern District, granted Cawthorn's request to block the State Board of Elections from proceeding with the voter challenge against the congressman's candidacy.

Myers ruled an 1872 law granting amnesty to former Confederates shielded Cawthorn too. Since Cawthorn's federal suit was filed against the elections board only, Myers denied the voters' request to intervene in the case.

The group of voters has now appealed to the federal 4th Circuit, asking for reversal of Judge Myers's denial of their right to intervene and for his ruling on the 1872 statute to be overturned.

Should the three-judge appeals panel grant all the requests, the N.C. Board of Elections might have to re-start the challenge process and appoint local elections officials from the 11th District to hear the candidacy challenge.

Oral arguments at the 4th Circuit are scheduled for May 3.

Rusty Jacobs is WUNC's Voting and Election Integrity Reporter.
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