The North Carolina State Board of Elections (SBE) removed two members of the Surry County Board of Elections for refusing to certify the 2022 general election.
Tim DeHaan and Jerry Forestieri, the two Republican members of the board, gave their reasons for doing so in a letter to the rest of the board. They explained in the first paragraph that they could not vote to certify the election because an investigation into “alleged actions by one election worker” had not been completed at the time of the board’s meeting.
DeHaan and Forestieri would probably still be on the board had they left it at that opening paragraph. After all, SBE board member Tommy Tucker voted not to certify the 2020 election over a judicial change to election laws after voting had already started.
What got them into trouble with the SBE were the following six paragraphs in which they railed against decisions by U.S. District Judge Loretta Biggs striking down a voter ID law and voter challenges. They claimed that the rulings “gave Federal [sic] protection to felonious voter fraud thus raising the possibility of election theft.”
North Carolina law (§ 163-22(c)) gives the SBE power to remove county election board members for “incompetency, neglect or failure to perform duties, fraud, or for any other satisfactory cause.” The board voted 4-0 to remove DeHaan and Forestieri for “impermissible collateral attack on the court decisions and final administrative orders” and “breach of duty and a violation of the oath of office.” Interestingly, Tucker did not attend the meeting.
In an emailed press release, SBE Chairman Damon Circosta said, “those who administer elections must follow the law as it is written, not how they want it to be.”
But if we are to remove election officials for not following the law as it is written, then why didn’t the North Carolina State Board of Elections fire their general council, Katelyn Love?
North Carolina state law (G.S. § 163-45(a)) states that parties may appoint two local observers at a time for each voting place and that those observers may be replaced by other observers “after serving no less than four hours.” That means parties can appoint up to six observers on most days of early (one-stop) voting per site and up to eight observers per site on election day.
Despite that, Love issued guidance to county election boards in 2020 that illegally limited the number of observers to two per day at early voting sites. Love did not reverse course until Trump campaign attorney and former SBE employee Heather Ford called Love. Ford had to read the law aloud to Love over the phone to get her to issue a correction.
Perhaps Love was just ignorant of the law when she issued her illegal guidance on observers. That alone should constitute a fireable offense for someone whose job is to advise election boards on the law.
But it gets worse.
Just a few months later, the SBE sought to change its rules to limit local election observers to two per day. Again, that is a direct violation of state law. As the SBE’s general counsel, Love cannot claim to be ignorant of the attempt to alter election rules illegally. Indeed, she conducted the public hearing on the proposed rule change.
It was only after that public hearing made it clear that people were aware of what Love and the SBE were trying to do — and after they threatened the SBE with lawsuits if they went through with it — that the board backed down.
If the North Carolina State Board of Elections is going to be removing election officials for breach of duty and violating election law, perhaps they should clean their own house first.