RALEIGH — 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.
“Every election is important, but there has never been a better time in our state to put voters first. I appreciate the faith Governor Cooper has put in me to carry out this important role,” said Circosta in a statement issued by the NCSBE. “I look forward to working with the State and County Boards of Elections to ensure elections are secure and that voters have confidence in the process.”
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.
At the time Circosta served, the board consisted of nine members, but that configuration was struck down as unconstitutional and was replaced by a five-member board. Three of the five positions are now held by Democrats.
Sen. Ralph Hise (R-Mitchell) issued a statement critical of Cooper’s pick as a partisan political move.
“Governor Cooper isn’t even pretending that he cares about good government. By appointing Damon Circosta to the Board today as the tie-breaking Democrat, he’s admitting that his previous appointment of Circosta as an ‘unaffiliated’ member was a sham,” said Hise, the co-chair of the Senate Redistricting and Elections Committee.
“If this is Cooper’s idea of an independent body, just imagine what a cesspool an independent redistricting committee would turn into. To paraphrase the Governor’s own statement from last year, ‘it’s unbelievable to watch Democrats try to rig the rules of a system they’ve already gamed,’” Hise said.
Circosta is the fourth state elections board chair appointed since December 2018. Circosta’s predecessor, Bob Cordle, was appointed by Gov. Cooper to replace Joshua Malcolm in late January.
Former NCSBE chairman Bob Cordle resigned on July 29 after the news broke that he had told a sexually-suggestive “Welsh Cow” joke at a conference which women are compared to cows.
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.
Cordle’s swift departure left the board in a tight spot, as the agency is in the middle of deciding whether new voting machines should be required to furnish a paper printout so voters can read and confirm their ballots. One-third of North Carolina’s 100 counties must replace their current touch-screen voting machines after this year’s elections. The counties buy the machines but only from those vendors approved by the state Elections Board. The decision on the paper records may determine which vendors are eligible.
Malcolm decided to remove his name for consideration for the new state board according to the Charlotte Observer. He had drawn criticism from Republicans that for an alleged lack of disclosure about his wife’s donations to Roy Cooper, his daughter’s work with the NC Democratic Party and frequent contact with Democratic Bladen County Board of Elections member Jens Lutz prior to Lutz’s resignation. Lutz was also a former consulting partner of accused ballot harvester McRae Dowless.
Malcolm had been tapped to replace Andy Penry, who resigned after anti-Trump tweets and tweets attacking other Republicans made by Penry surfaced.
Penry’s tweets included calling President Trump a “despicable human being,” mocking Congressman George Holding’s appearance and attacking various Republican officials and voters.
The NC GOP filed a complaint on Nov. 28 demanding Penry’s removal over the partisan tweets, which the complaint argued violated state law. Penry resigned days later on Dec. 1, 2018.