Judge dismisses lawsuit challenging state GOP leadership election

N.C. Republican Party Chairman Michael Whatley addresses the state GOP convention. (Image from David Cobb)

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  • A Wake County judge has dismissed a lawsuit challenging the state Republican Party's recent leadership election.
  • Three delegates to the state GOP's recent convention had challenged the election that resulted in Michael Whatley defeating John Kane to win another term as state party chairman.
  • The judge rejected a request to issue a preliminary injunction while plaintiffs sought a new leadership election.

A Superior Court judge has thrown out a lawsuit challenging the state Republican Party’s leadership election this summer.

Court records indicate Judge Claire Hill, a Democrat, granted the state GOP’s motion to dismiss the case. Hill denied a motion to issue a preliminary injunction against the party.

Hill, who normally works in Cumberland County, presided over a hearing in the case this week in Wake County Superior Court.

GOP leaders filed an Aug. 16 motion to dismiss the case. “Plaintiffs’ Complaint should be dismissed in its entirety because Plaintiffs lack standing to bring this action,” wrote attorneys representing the state party. “Additionally, Plaintiffs’ Complaint should be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, as Plaintiffs’ Complaint, on its face, fails to establish the necessary elements for any plausible claims as alleged.”

Three Republicans filed a lawsuit in July to block results of the state GOP’s June leadership vote. The suit in Wake County Superior Court challenges the process the party used to elect a chairman during its state convention.

Michael Whatley defeated challenger John Kane to win another term as state party chairman. The lawsuit questioned the vote. Plaintiffs sought a preliminary injunction against the state GOP.

Mike Urben of Wake County, Andrae DeHaan of Surry County, and Aryn Schloemer of Guilford County were plaintiffs in the case. Each was a delegate to the June state GOP convention.

“According to purported NCGOP Chair Michael Whatley, ‘there are few issues more important than election integrity and the need to restore trust in our elections,’” according to the complaint.

The suit cites Whatley’s March 2022 speech to Hoke County Republicans. “Mr. Whatley recognized that ‘there are two key components to election integrity that you just have to have — 90 percent of election integrity comes down to having machines that do not and cannot connect with the internet, that have a paper ballot so that you can go back and do audits, and are made in the USA, and you have to have the Republican attorneys and observers in the room.’”

“The Convention is where top party officials are supposed to be elected,” the complaint continued. “The Party previously established rules and guardrails for voting at the Convention. The NCGOP violated those rules, launching a mobile phone application which allowed votes to be cast from outside the Convention floor in the contested Chair election.”

“The Chair election and the app failed both of Mr. Whatley’s ‘key components for election integrity’ — the Party conducted the vote over the Internet and failed to use paper ballots making an audit impossible,” the lawsuit argued. “The Chair election votes, to use Mr. Whatley’s words, were neither ‘legal’ in that they didn’t comply with the Party’s own voting rules, nor were they ‘counted correctly.’”

“To make matters even worse, the Party improperly adjourned without holding an election for Vice Chair, re-installing the incumbent for an additional two-year term. Plaintiffs — loyal Republicans all — and others have asked for answers regarding what happened in Greensboro but have only been stonewalled.”

“Faced with no other choice, Plaintiffs bring this lawsuit to get the NCGOP to follow its own rules,” according to the complaint. “The record is clear — the Party repeatedly violated its own Plan of the Organization and Convention Rules during the 2023 Convention. … This case is not about substantive policy questions, but rather whether the Party met its election integrity commitments in its own operations.”

“It is in everyone’s interest, including the NCGOP’s, to address what happened in Greensboro at the 2023 Convention,” the complaint continued. “A new leadership election, which the NCGOP’s Plan of Organization contemplates, is the only path forward.”

Carolina Journal reported Whatley’s emphasis on party unity after the June election.

“I think that the Republican Party is unified,” he said. “There’s a reason that President Trump, Vice President Pence and Ron DeSantis came to the convention.”

Whatley also emphasized the importance of North Carolina in the 2024 election.

“Strategically and politically, North Carolina really, really matters,” he said. “It matters in both the general and in the primary. We’re a Super Tuesday battleground state.” 

Editor’s note: This article was updated on Sept. 18 to include a link to the court order dismissing the lawsuit.