North Carolina’s new bipartisan elections board won’t be named for a week, but it’s already sparked more partisan sniping in the midst of what could be the state’s biggest election scandal in years.
The attacks began after former board Chairman Josh Malcolm, a Democrat who sparked the investigation into election fraud in the 9th Congressional District, told the Observer that he will not serve on a new board.
Republican Sen. Dan Bishop of Charlotte and GOP Rep. David Lewis of Harnett County, who chair election committees, called Malcolm’s decision, coupled with the December resignation of then-Chairman Andy Penry, “the inevitable result of (Gov. Roy) Cooper’s crusade to make the Board an arm of his political machine.”
Meanwhile, the N.C. Democratic Party nominated four people for three seats on the new five-member board, which Cooper is expected to name on Jan. 31. It also claimed that three of the four Republicans recommended by state GOP are ineligible. Republicans will have two seats on the new board.
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Democrats Thursday nominated Stella Anderson, Bob Cordle, Greg Flynn and Valerie Johnson to the board. All but Flynn served on the previous nine-member board, which a court dissolved on Dec. 28 as part of a separate legal case.
Republicans on Wednesday recommended Francis De Luca, Stacy Eggers, Eldon “Buck” Newton and Eddie Woodhouse. Eggers also served on the previous board.
Democrats say De Luca and Newton are ineligible under a statute that says any officer of a group that “has engaged in electioneering” in the previous 48 months cannot serve on the state board. De Luca was president of the Civitas Institute and associated with Civitas Action, a nonprofit that ranks legislators based on their conservative voting record. Newton launched a super PAC last year to push passage of the voter ID amendment. And Woodhouse was a candidate for Raleigh City Council in 2015.
Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the state GOP, said the party was trying to clarify the law with the staff of the elections board.
Malcolm said it was his decision to bow out of consideration for the new state board.
“In my opinion it’s the best decision for the State Board of Elections and for me personally that I have decided that I’m not going to serve,” he told the Observer.
It was Malcolm who, as then-vice chair of the board, expressed concerns on Nov. 27 over “unfortunate activities” in the eastern part of the 9th Congressional District. Those concerns led the bipartisan board to unanimously decline to certify the election of Republican Mark Harris. Harris led Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes in unofficial returns.
The investigation has focused on alleged fraud involving absentee ballots, particularly in Bladen County. That’s the eastern end of the 9th District, which stretches from central Charlotte.
The district is now the country’s longest unresolved congressional race. On Monday a Wake County judge declined Harris’ request to force a state election official to certify Harris as the victor. The focus will now turn to the new elections board.
Malcolm had come under increasing fire from Republicans. They said his unreported conversations with Jens Lutz, a former elections board member from Bladen County, were suspicious.
His decision not to serve on a new board, was “the obvious result of the debacle that Malcolm kicked off in the most untransparent way,” Woodhouse said. “The people of North Carolina are certainly better without him on the board,” he added. “Now we have to clean up his mess.”
On Nov. 27, Malcolm spoke up in what was expected to be a routine certification of the results of North Carolina’s 13 congressional races. He asked the board to remove the 9th District from the list of those to be certified.
“I’m very familiar with unfortunate activities that have been happening down in my part of the state,” he told the board. “And I am not going to turn a blind eye to what took place to the best of my understanding which has been ongoing for a number of years that has repeatedly been referred to the United States attorney and the district attorneys for them to take action and clean it up. And in my opinion those things have not taken place.”
Malcolm said he’s been “honored’ to have been appointed to the board by Cooper and former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory.
“I think I’ve done good work on the state board of elections and positioned them well to protect the ballot box,” he said. “When the time (comes), I look forward to serving the citizens of our state if called upon to do so.”