Cooper and legislators continue court fight over Board of Elections
The Wake County Republican Party chairman filed a complaint against the chairman of the state elections board Wednesday alleging his social media habits show favoritism toward candidates on the ballot and show “contempt for the principle of public neutrality.”
The complaint, sent to Gov. Roy Cooper and State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement Executive Director Kim Strach, asks for the state board to remove Penry and replace him with “a fair-minded individual who will act in the public interest and not show favoritism towards any party or clique.”
Penry, a Democrat, was appointed to the board by Cooper earlier this year.
The complaint comes as the North Carolina General Assembly prepares to reshape the board after a three-judge panel found the board’s current makeup unconstitutional.
The complaint, filed by Charles Hellwig, include 17 pages of examples of tweets Penry has sent since becoming the chairman of the NCSBE, including one saying President Donald Trump needs a “diaper change.” Another tweet calls the recently passed constitutional amendment to preserve the right to hunt and fish the “hunt n’ feesh” amendment.
State law requires anyone on the state board to not make any “written or oral statements intended for general distribution or dissemination” to the public that supports or opposes a candidate or nominee for office or a referendum or ballot proposal.
“Unfortunately, the Chairman of the State Board, Andrew Penry, has continuously and blatantly ignored these safeguards,” the complaint reads. “Due to this behavior, he has clearly violated North Carolina law and must be removed from his post as Chairman and as a member of the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement.”
An email and phone message left with Penry wasn’t immediately returned.
The board’s social media policy states that members and staff of the state board and county boards “engage in political speech via social media at their peril when it comes to the Board’s enforcement” of state laws regarding statements on candidates and referendum.
It is unclear if the complaint will lead to Penry being removed from the board. State law gives the governor the authority to remove a member from the state board “only for misfeasance, malfeasance, or nonfeasance.” A request for comment from Cooper’s office on the complaint and whether it was considering removing Penry was not immediately returned.
Penry lists being chairman of the board in his profile on Twitter. The complaint says his account “expresses clear public animus towards” candidates as well as constitutional amendments that were on the November 2018 ballot.
This isn’t the first time Penry has come under fire for what he’s done as chairman. In October, Republicans criticized Penry for asking GOP state Sen. Ralph Hise’s campaign to provide a doctor’s note detailing his mother’s cancer and when she would be able to testify in front of the board concerning campaign finance discrepancies. Hise’s mother served as his campaign treasurer.