RALEIGH – Governor Roy Cooper has had some problems with turnover when it comes to the State Board of Elections. That’s after he fought tooth and nail against reform legislation that would have made it a truly bipartisan board, suing to keep it in his partisan control.
The result has been predictable: Cooper’s appointees have been unethically partisan, incompetent, and bad joke tellers. Yet, a review of just how bad Cooper’s BOE has been by the Republican Governors Association (RGA) reminds us of why this governor needs to go, and the BOE needs reform.
Protecting the right to vote is a sacred responsibility that elected leaders are duty bound to uphold. Many governors have the ability to protect the integrity of the ballot by appointing qualified and impartial individuals to oversee elections in their states – apparently Roy Cooper missed the memo.
Cooper has consistently abused his appointment power to stack the North Carolina State Board of Elections with campaign donors and partisan operatives – in less than a single term, three of his appointees have been forced to resign in disgrace.
“Governor Cooper’s repeated and deliberate decisions to appoint campaign cronies and political hacks to the Board of Elections undermines public confidence in a free and fair election system at this critical time in our history,” said RGA Communications Director Amelia Chassé Alcivar. “Roy Cooper puts politics over the public interest at every opportunity, and his obvious efforts to stack the Board of Elections with his partisan allies is no exception. When it comes to keeping partisanship out of free and fair elections, North Carolinians can’t count on Roy Cooper.”
Three Of Cooper’s Appointees To The Board Of Elections Resigned Amid Chaos And Scandal
J. Anthony “Andy” Penry
In March 2018, Cooper Appointed J. Anthony “Andy” Penry To Serve On The Board Of Elections. (“Gov. Cooper Makes Appointments To Elections And Ethics Board,” North State Journal, 3/16/18)
- From 1999-2016 Penry Contributed At Least $17,000 Towards Cooper’s Political Campaigns. (North Carolina State Board Of Elections)
In November 2018, Penry Was Accused Of Violating State Law For Making Partisan Public Comments And Advocating For An Even-Numbered Election Board. “Hellwig provided images of what appear as tweets this year from Penry’s account criticizing Donald Trump and efforts to create an even-numbered elections board…Hellwig cites state law prohibiting board members from making public comments supporting or opposing candidates and referendums. Trump is a declared 2020 candidate.” (“GOP Complains About N Carolina Elections Chairman’s Tweets,” Associated Press, 11/28/18)
Penry Resigned From His Position In December 2018. “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.’” (Joe Johnson, “Amidst Social Media Controversy, NC Board Of Elections Chair Resigns,” The News & Observer, 12/1/18)
- The News & Observer Editorial Board Concluded That The Saga And Penry’s Ultimate Resignation “Embarrassed Cooper” And Served As An Example For A Less Partisan Board. “Now that misstep has embarrassed Cooper and undercut his legal argument for why the board should have a majority of members from the governor’s party.” (Editorial, “Keep Partisanship Off The NC Elections Board,” The News & Observer, 11/30/18)
In March 2018, Cooper Appointed Joshua Malcolm To The Board; Malcolm Succeeded Penry As Chairman In December 2018. (Press Release, “Gov. Cooper Names Individuals To State Board Of Elections,” North Carolina Office Of the Governor, 3/16/18; “Elections Leader Named To Probe North Carolina Congress Race,” The Associated Press, 12/4/18)
While Chairman, Malcolm Refused To Certify The Election Results Of A Special Congressional Election That Was Won By A Republican. “The state board of elections Tuesday refused to certify the results of the 9th Congressional District election after one board member cited what he called ‘unfortunate activities’ in the eastern part of the district. It’s unclear what those activities involved or what the failure to certify might mean. The board discussed the matter in closed session. Republican Mark Harris defeated Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes. Election board member Joshua Malcolm raised the issue 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.” (Jim Morrill, “NC Elections Board Refuses To Certify 9th District Race, Leaving It In Limbo,” The News & Observer, 11/27/18)
- Records Showed That Malcolm Was In Frequent Contact With A Democratic County Elections Board Member Who Was A Key Figure In The NC-09 Race. “Records show the immediate past Chairman of the North Carolina State Board of Elections had frequent contact in the days leading up to the 2018 general election with a Bladen County Democrat who is among those interviewed by NCSBE investigators…WBTV has learned Malcolm was in frequent communication with Jens Lutz, a Bladen County Democrat whose name has emerged in several ways as the current investigation has unfolded… Specifically, the board attorney confirmed there were no phone records documenting calls between the two men when asked by WBTV… But the text messages exchanged between the two men suggest the topics included in the communication included concern for activities related to the 2018 election. ‘During that meeting some troubling issues came up, so if you have time call me tomorrow. Thanks,’ Lutz texted Malcolm on June 10.” (Nick Ochsner, “Records Show NCSBE Chair Had Frequent Contact With Figure In NC-09 Investigation During ’18 Election,” WBTV, 1/3/19)
Malcolm Resigned After State Senators Asked For Him To Provide More Transparency About His Communication With Partisan Democrat Operatives. “Two Republican state senators and executive committee for Democrats’ Ninth Congressional District are asking for more transparency into potential election fraud in the unsettled race between the Rev. Mark Harris and Dan McCready… Sens. Harry Brown of Onslow County and Kathy Harrington of Gaston County want answers from Joshua Malcolm, the Pembroke lawyer previously serving as chairman of the state Board of Elections.” (“Contact Between Malcolm, Lutz Questioned,” The Robesonian, 1/9/19)
On December 2018, Cooper Appointed Bob Cordle To The Board. (Mark Rumsey, “Cooper Names New North Carolina Elections Board Chairman,” WFAE, 12/3/18)
- From 2000-2016 Cordle Contributed At Least $9,000 Towards Cooper’s Campaigns. (North Carolina State Board Of Elections)
While Serving As Chairman Of The Board Cordle Quickly Worked To Remove A Republican-Backed Elections Official. “While chair, Cordle notably led efforts to oust former elections director Kim Strach and hire Karen Brinson Bell, a Democrat and former elections director in Transylvania County.” (A.P. Dillon, “Cooper Appoints Circosta To Board Of Elections After Cordle Resignation,” North State Journal, 8/14/19)
In July 2019, Cordle Resigned In Disgrace After He Made Sexist Remarks In Front Of Hundreds Of Elections Officials. “The chairman of North Carolina’s State Board of Elections resigned Tuesday after he made a joke in front of hundreds of election officials relating cows to women, WRAL reported. Gov. Roy Cooper (D) accepted the resignation of Democrat Robert Cordle with immediate effect, just seven months after he was appointed to help investigate claims of absentee ballot voting irregularities in the disputed 9th District House race.” (Morgan Gstalter, “North Carolina Elections Chair Resigns After Joke Relating Cows To Women,” The Hill, 7/31/19)
In August 2019, Damon Circosta Was Elected Chairman Of The Board Of Elections, Continuing Cooper’s Streak Of Appointing Democrats To The Board. “Gov. Roy Cooper has appointed Damon Circosta, the executive director and vice president of the AJ Fletcher Foundation, to fill the void left by the resignation of North Carolina State Board of Elections (NCSBE) chairman Bob Cordle…On Tuesday, Aug. 13, the board voted 5-0 to make Circosta the new elections board chair. All four of Cooper’s appointments have been Democrats. Circosta, who now is a registered Democrat, had previously served on the board in 2018 as an unaffiliated member.” (A.P. Dillon, “Cooper Appoints Circosta To Board Of Elections After Cordle Resignation,” North State Journal, 8/14/19)
- Circosta Is The Executive Director And Vice President Of The A.J. Fletcher Organization Which “Funds A Number Of Left-Leaning Organizations.” “The Fletcher Foundation, based in Raleigh, is a nonprofit charitable organization which, among other causes, funds a number of left-leaning organizations, including the N.C. Justice Center, N.C. Common Cause, and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.” (“Cooper Names Circosta To State Elections Board,” Carolina Journal, 8/7/19)
- Circosta Previously Headed The North Carolina Center For Voter Education, An Organization Which Had Been Propped Up With Funding From George Soros’ Open Society Institute. (“Form 990: Open Society Institute,” Pro Publica, 2007)
The News & Observer Editorial Board: “Keep Partisanship Off The NC Elections Board”
- The Editorial Board Called On Cooper To Be More “Careful” About The Individuals He Appoints To The Board. “As hard as Gov. Roy Cooper has fought to maintain control of the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement, you would assume he would be especially careful about the people he appoints to the board and how they conduct themselves in office… For his next appointment to the board, the governor should choose someone who understands that public confidence in the even-handed administration of elections isn’t compatible with partisan bellowing on Twitter.”
The Charlotte Observer Editorial Board: Board Of Elections Decision To Oust And Launch “Character Assassination” Against Qualified Board Member Kim Strach Was “Because She Is Not A Democrat.” “Kim Strach, the executive director of the state Board of Elections, was doing a good job before she got fired Monday… So why did Strach get shown the door? It’s because she is not a Democrat and the Board of Elections is majority Democrat… And it’s wrong… If there ever was a moment not to replace an elections director because of party, it was now. The Democrats did so anyway Monday, and they justified it in the worst possible way. It was unseemly and hypocritical. It was politics.”