Under the Dome

State elections board chairman to step down

Josh Howard
Josh Howard N.C. State Board of Elections

The chairman of the state Board of Elections on Tuesday announced that he is stepping down.

Josh Howard, a lawyer in Raleigh, made the announcement during a phone-in meeting of the state board. He will leave after 2 1/2 years, effective Jan. 1.

After the meeting, Howard said that health problems prompted his resignation. He said a cholesterol count of 307, which is considered very high, led to his decision to make some lifestyle changes.

He thanked the staff, county boards and his state board colleagues for steering North Carolina through unprecedented changes, including major revisions of election law and new management at the state elections office, including the promotion of investigator Kim Strach to executive director.

“We set a tone that investigations will be handled aggressively but in a nonpartisan and professional manner, and I think we’ve seen the results of that loud and clear,” Howard said. “I regret I need to step aside now, but I’m thrilled and proud of what we’ve done here.”

Howard, a Republican, was appointed to the five-member board by Gov. Pat McCrory in 2013. A former federal prosecutor who handled white-collar crimes and a one-time ethics officer for RTI International, Howard established a reputation for independence on the elections board.

One of his biggest challenges came when an elections office investigation into political influence by the video sweepstakes industry led to the forced resignation of fellow board member Paul Foley. Foley had continually pressed for information about the investigation without disclosing the extent of his law firm’s representation of a sweepstakes mogul at the center of the probe.

Howard launched an independent investigation of Foley’s actions, saying they had threatened the integrity of the long-running sweepstakes probe.

Last month, the state board removed a Rowan County elections board chairman who made derogatory and inflammatory posts about blacks, immigrants and the LGBT community on social media before he was appointed. The state board voted 3-2 to remove Malcolm “Mac” Butner for violating the social media policy and for creating a perception of distrust.

“These are remarks I would not tolerate in my home, I wouldn’t abide them in my workplace, and I sure as heck am not going to leave a person who says these things on a county board of elections – not on my watch,” Howard said at the meeting.

The chairman works at the law firm he co-founded, Gammon, Howard and Zeszotarski. He also worked on investigations of the Clinton White House while an associate independent counsel in Washington, D.C.

The state Republican Party chairman, Hasan Harnett, will submit to the governor three names of replacement candidates, from which the governor must choose. The replacement will serve through the remaining term, which ends May 2017.

Craig Jarvis: 919-829-4576, @CraigJ_NandO