Forest asks Feds to investigate consent order

NC Attorney General Josh Stein calls NCBSE resignations "theater."

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest addresses the crowd as his official gubernatorial kick off rally. Photo credit: James Piedad via the Dan Forest for Governor campaign

RALEIGH — North Carolina Lt. Gov. Dan Forest has requested U.S. Attorney General William Barr investigate the recent consent order regarding absentee ballot processing. Voting by absentee ballot is already underway in the state.

“I am formally requesting that the United States Department of Justice investigate the collusive attack on the integrity of North Carolina’s elections by the North Carolina State Board of Elections and the office of North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein,” the opening of Forest’s letter reads.

The consent order, if approved, would effectively reverse legislation safeguarding absentee ballots, which was signed into law by Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, and that has had wide bipartisan support. The order was negotiated between N.C. State Board of Elections (NCSBE) attorneys and plaintiffs represented by Democratic lawyer Marc Elias. North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein was also involved. Elias was also the attorney who represented Cooper during the 2016 gubernatorial election recount.

The changes in the consent order would permit usage of “anonymous” outdoor absentee ballot drop boxes, eliminate the witness requirements for absentee ballots and draw out the time period for the state to receive absentee ballots to nine days beyond election day. Another change lets people returning ballots in person bypass logging their ballot in writing and instead allowing them to verbally give their information to election workers.

Forest, a Republican who is running for governor against Cooper, states in his letter that the consent order is attempting to make “wholesale changes to the absentee ballot laws of North Carolina.”

“They have effectively gutted provisions that ensure a quick resolution of the election, witness requirements for absentee ballots, and the requirement that the in-person drop-off of absentee ballots be by the voter or the voter’s near relative,” Forest writes. “These provisions of our election law were put into place by wide, bipartisan margins to prevent the disaster that happened in the 2018 election for North Carolina’s 9th U.S. House District, which was voided because of illegal ballot harvesting.”

Forest closes the letter asking for a full investigation by the Department of Justice, as the consent order, if approved, will “no doubt impact the Presidential, Senatorial, and Congressional elections in North Carolina.”

“Further, I am requesting that the Department of Justice review whether this election interference necessitates federal intervention under the Guarantee Clause of Article IV, Section IV of the United States Constitution,” Forest says in closing.

North State Journal reached out to the governor’s office for comment on whether or not he supports the consent order but did not receive a response by publication time.

In a tweet following his statement and letter, Forest listed four steps of what possibly led to the consent order situation:

1) Cooper sues to gain full control of NC Election Board
2) Cooper gets out-of-state Democrat lawyer to sue NC
3) Cooper, AG Stein “settle” lawsuit in secret & mislead election board of settlement
4) Now NC allows ballot harvesting, no-verify, and 9 day late ballots

In a tweet, Republican House Majority Leader Rep. John Bell summarized the consent order ctivities as a “dangerous new form of sue and settle.”

The sitting congressman for the Ninth District, Republican Dan Bishop, also issued a statement asking for legal intervention.

“In the strongest terms, I urge the Trump Campaign and RNC to litigate without delay this abuse of power and attack on the separation of powers,” said Bishop. “In swing states across the country, Democrats are engaged in last-minute efforts, orchestrated by Elias, to throw the election into chaos. They must know they are going to lose.”

Late Wednesday evening, the two Republican members of the NCSBE, David Black of Cabarrus County and Ken Raymond of Forsyth County, tendered their resignations alleging that counsel had misled them about the consent order.

North State Journal asked for but did not receive a comment from the governor’s office on the resignations prior to publication time.

Attorney General Stein tweeted a statement calling the resignations “political theater.”

“This is political theater at its most destructive. The Republican Party needs to start respecting democracy, instead of undermining it,” said Stein’s statement.

Stein’s statement went on to say that the consent order is “a negotiated compromise response to the greatest public health crisis in 100 years, the USPS slowing of mail delivery, and a federal court order mandating a cure process for mail in ballot errors.”

Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Eden) responded to Stein’s remarks in a statement to North State Journal.

“According to the Republican board members, Democratic Attorney General Stein withheld key information and deceived them by failing to reveal that state and federal courts had already rejected absentee ballot changes sought by Democratic Plaintiffs and falsely claiming courts would rule for those Plaintiffs,” Berger said. “Attorney General Stein now says that this controversy is ‘political theater at its most destructive’ and he’s right. This scheme strikes at the very heart of our elective process. The elimination of absentee ballot fraud protections in the Democrats’ corrupt, collusive settlement is part of a long-term effort already rejected by a near-unanimous legislature, a federal judge and a three-judge state court panel. Why did the Democrats concoct this performance in secret?”

Berger continued, “Board of Elections Democrats have repeatedly tried to enact these policies for months. They lost when the legislature rejected them almost unanimously; they lost when a federal judge rejected them; they lost when a state court rejected them. Now they’ve resorted to deceit and trickery by withholding key information from Republicans and secretly negotiating with Democratic plaintiffs to produce a collusive settlement that enables a repeat of absentee ballot fraud such as occurred in the 9th Congressional District in 2018.”

According to a tweet by Charlotte Observer reporter Jim Morrill about the two resignations, the North Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Goodwin said “This is I believe part of a master plan…that (@realDonaldTrump) wants to stop votes from being counted so he can stay in office.”

“It is appalling that Roy Cooper and Josh Stein have set up a totally partisan operation at the Board of Elections – which is in the process of completely overhauling North Carolina election rules after voting has already begun,” said NCGOP Chairman Michael Whatley. “The Board needs to set aside their partisan objectives, comply with their statutory obligations and administer the elections fairly.”

Whatley continued, “After the Democrats shameful tactics, it is fully appropriate for the Republican members to resign in protest, and we will submit suitable replacements as quickly as possible.”

In an official statement released by the North Carolina Democratic Party, House Democratic Leader Darren Jackson said that the “Republican tirade against voting rights has reached an unconscionable level.” In the statement, Jackson also said that with “40 days until the election,” that the Republicans “have resorted to lying and sowing distrust in our electoral process all to cling to power.”

Two pieces of legislation contain measures the consent order seemingly is trying to overturn. One law is SB 683 -Combat Absentee Ballot Fraud, which passed the House 111-1 and Jackson cast the only “no” vote. A second bill, the HB 1169 – Bipartisan Elections Act of 2020, contains the one witness requirement for absentee ballots. Jackson voted yes on that measure.

Both measures were signed into law by Cooper within days of their passage.

About A.P. Dillon 1206 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_