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Complaint: NC elections board chairman too partisan

November 28,2018 19:13

By Travis Fain, WRAL statehouse reporter. Raleigh, N.C. — A complaint filed Wednesday by the head of the Wake County Republican Party calls for State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement Chairman Andy Penry's removal over a series of political ...


By Travis Fain, WRAL statehouse reporter
Raleigh, N.C. — A complaint filed Wednesday by the head of the Wake County Republican Party calls for State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement Chairman Andy Penry's removal over a series of political tweets.
The complaint says Penry violated a state code forbidding board members from making public statements for or against candidates and ballot issues. It includes dozens of tweets from Penry's account, as well as tweets from others that he "liked" on the social media site.
Among them: tweets suggesting that a measure to rework the state board would leave the board "neutered or hopelessly deadlocked" and quite a few bashing President Donald Trump. In one Penry suggested the president needed a diaper change.
"Not feeling golf today," another anti-Trump tweet states. "Back to the bedroom for some Fox, Twitter and six Big Macs."
Charles Hellwig, chairman of the Wake County Republican Party, wrote in his complaint that, with Penry in office, "no one can trust that he will work in good faith to oversee elections, rule on ethics opinions, or otherwise conduct public business without favor towards his political ends."
Penry said Wednesday that he hadn't seen the complaint and was not yet prepared to comment.
The complaint was addressed to Gov. Roy Cooper, who appointed Penry, and to Kim Strach, who oversees day-to-day operations for the elections board.
Neither office immediately responded to requests for comment.
It's no secret that Penry is a partisan. He is a staunch Democrat and a six-figure donor to left-leaning causes over the years, according to state campaign finance records. In 2015, he was listed as president of Carolina Citizens for Protecting Our Schools, a nonprofit responsible for a number of political advertising campaigns carried out under numerous names.
Penry told WRAL News earlier this year that he was no longer with that group, which ran advertisements ahead of this year's elections under at least three different names and targeted Republican legislators over changes they've pushed to the state courts system.
This is not the first time an elections official has come under fire for social media posts. A Haywood County Board of Elections member resigned under pressure just last month after a Facebook post claiming Democrats want to legalize pedophilia.
State law forbids elections board members from making "written or oral statements intended for general distribution or dissemination to the public at large supporting or opposing the nomination or election of one or more clearly identified candidates for public office" or doing the same for "clearly identified referendum or ballot issue proposals."
Hellwig points specifically to four candidates mentioned on Penry's Twitter account: Trump, Republican 2nd District Congressman George Holding, former Gov. Pat McCrory and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, whom Penry dubbed "a phony." Those tweets, and others criticizing Republicans in general, express "clear public animus towards multiple declared and likely candidates," Hellwig wrote.
Penry also criticized some of the state constitutional amendments on the ballot this fall, including one voters shot down that would have reworked the nine-member elections board as bipartisan body with equal members from each party.
"Even numbered panels rarely work well," Penry said in one tweet. "All arbitration forums advise against them. This is why."
"Just think of whether a neutered or hopelessly deadlocked Board could protect the voters of our state," he said in another.
The current board is made up of four Democrats, four Republicans and one independent appointed by the governor. Control of the board has been the subject of repeated legislation and lawsuits since Cooper took office, and the Republican-controlled General Assembly is expected to rework the makeup again during its ongoing legislative session, given that a court found its current arrangement unconstitutional.
Hellwig's complaint calls for an investigation and for Penry's replacement with "a fair-minded individual who will act in the public interest and not show favoritism towards any party or clique."

Board of Elections &, Ethics Enforcement

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