Amidst social media controversy, NC Board of Elections chair resigns

Andy Penry
Andy Penry

The chairman of the North Carolina State Board of Elections announced Saturday he is resigning amidst a controversy over his social media and an ongoing investigation into alleged voter fraud in the 9th Congressional District race.

Andy Penry stepped down as leader of the nine-person board, effective immediately. In a statement to The News & Observer, he said he is doing so on his own accord because it’s in “the best interest of the investigation.”

“The investigation of criminal conduct and absentee voting fraud in the 2018 Republican primary and 2018 general election in Congressional District 9 is a matter of vital importance to our democracy,” he said in his statement. “The investigation should be free of attempts at distraction and obstruction so that the truth can be revealed. I will not allow myself to be used as an instrument of distraction in this investigation.”

The Washington Post first reported the resignation.

Penry, a Democrat, has come under fire from local and state Republican leaders. They said his critical social media posts about President Donald Trump and other Republicans might suggest the board’s investigation into election fraud is tilted. His Twitter feed no longer is public.

Ford Porter, Gov. Roy Cooper’s spokesperson, confirmed Penry’s resignation Saturday afternoon: “The Governor has accepted Mr. Penry’s resignation and appreciates his service to our state.”

Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the state Republican Party, called on Cooper at a press conference to “now clean this mess up” by immediately appointing a “seasoned, well-respected” replacement that both parties can have confidence in to certify the results of the 9th Congressional District and others in question. He said the person could be appointed on a short-term basis.

Watch the press conference, from our news partners at ABC11.

He said now is a “perilous time” in our elections and that something needs to be done to give residents confidence again in the electoral system.

“Someone has got to be the one to fix this,” Woodhouse said.

Nine members make up the state Board of Elections, which included four Democrats, four Republicans and one unaffiliated member.

Wake County GOP Chairman Charles Hellwig filed a complaint this week against Penry, citing a state law prohibiting board members from making public comments supporting or opposing candidates and referendums. Trump is a declared 2020 candidate.

Hellwig’s complaint included 17 pages of examples of tweets the Raleigh lawyer has sent since Cooper appointed him to the board in March. In addition to negative comments about Trump, he tweeted criticism about Trump supporters, Sen. Ted Cruz, the constitutional amendment establishing an eight-member bipartisan State Board of Elections & Ethics Enforcement, and then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

Hellwig, who attended Saturday’s press conference with Woodhouse, called the social media posts “shocking” and said they were a turning point for him.

“It tears away our faith in this process,” he said. “Even the Board of Election, appointed by different parties, have a dual role in making sure it’s fair to everyone.”

Chairman David R. Lewis of the House Elections and Ethics Law Committee said in a tweeted statement Saturday that Penry, under North Carolina law, “had no choice” but to step down.

“My hope is that the next chairman will be fair-minded and keep the public more informed as to the confusion surrounding the Ninth Congressional District race,” he wrote. “These important investigations should continue as needed by the professional staff at the board, without interference or taint of partisanship by political appointees.”

He added that he would temporarily withdraw his request, made Friday, for State Board of Elections members and staff to appear Monday at the House Elections Committee to “answer for the total lack of transparency in its actions.”

In his tweet, he said, “the committee will continue to monitor the situation.”

Earlier this week, the board agreed not to certify the results of the 9th Congressional District race between Republican Mark Harris and Democrat Dan McCready. Harris leads the race by 905 votes in unofficial results but there have been questions raised about absentee ballots in the race.

Lauren Horsch contributed to this report.

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