In the conclusion of proceedings that began last year, the North Carolina Board of Elections met in front of a large crowd at the Surry County Courthouse in Dobson for a disciplinary hearing against county board of elections members Tim DeHaan and Jerry Forestieri.
In a nearly two-hour hearing that drew audience members from around the area and media outlets from the metros the state board held two votes, each a 4-0 unanimous decision to remove Surry County Board of Elections members Tim DeHaan and Jerry Forestieri from the county board of elections.
A complaint was filed by Orange County resident and former director of Democracy NC Bob Hall against the conduct of the two board members. In his filing with the state, Hall noted that the men did not sign off on the canvass of the 2022 general election. Despite the men finding no issue with the election, except in the Dobson commissioners race – which has since been settled via a Special Election.
The Special Election itself was brought into Tuesday’s proceedings by state board chairman Damon Circosta who included the proceedings of that canvass meeting where the men again did not sign off on the certification.
Including that minutes from that canvass meeting, which was not part of the original presentation against the men, was explained by state counsel Paul Cox who quoted statute that said it was the state board’s prerogative to introduce new evidence to the hearing. State board member Stacy Eggers IV confirmed with Cox that the defendants had been informed these notes were being added.
DeHaan asked Circosta if the charges against the two were being amended to include additional charges from the March canvass of the Special Election. The chairman said they were not but that the hearing was “whether the board wishes to remove you for conduct.” He felt their actions in not certifying the March Dobson race had bearing to the hearing before them and the addition of those minutes was put to a vote and the state board approved.
After debate on process, and discussions on evidence, the two sides presented the meat of their arguments. Hall wants the men removed because he said they are in violation of their oath of office for not certifying elections. It is not their place to selectively enforce laws that they are oath bound to uphold, and as Chair Circosta noted there are often decisions from the legislature or judges he does not like. However, he said it is his duty to follow the law as written.
The men cannot be trusted to act consistently in the execution of election laws, Hall went on. In November the men said there were no issues with the election, but did not certify due to their concerns about election integrity as it relates to voter id. “We cannot trust them to administer the law… we don’t know what they’ll do next.”
Mount Airy resident Steve Odum came back to offer sworn testimony about seeing a former neighbor of his cross state lines to vote in Surry County in the 2022 primary. His inability to challenge a voter he had first hand knowledge of living out of state is indicative of the dysfunction of the current electoral system in this state since Judge Loretta Biggs tossed the voter identification law in 2018.
DeHaan and Forestieri defended themselves separately and when it was time for the state board to make their vote they considered the two men individually. DeHaan took issue with a letter he and Forestieri signed that was part of Hall’s complaint where they called Judge Biggs to task for overstepping her bounds.
The letter was never meant for public consumption, he told the state board, and the fact it was released to the public during an ongoing meeting he felt meant it was an illegal release of meeting notes. He took a moment to dive into Robert’s Rules of Parliamentary Procedure to say that such attachments to meeting minutes are not usually attached to said minutes.
Furthermore, if the board needs only a simple majority to certify a canvass, the men feel the fact that Surry County did in fact certify its results means that their actions did not hinder or harm anyone.
Questions about the definition of a ballot, or a legal ballot, and their lack of ability to compare signatures to voter registration cards means it is too nebulous for them to sign a legal document about the validity of an election.
Forestieri called into question Bob Hall and his relation to the state board of elections and its members. He asked if Hall, who he described as a liberal activist, was an agent of the state or the state board after so many years of working closely together. Repeated objections form Hall’s counsel Heather Klein about the tenor of the attacks against him were overruled by Circosta.
Republican board member Eggers said it was with a heavy heart that he moved that both men be removed from the Surry County board due to, in part, “I move we find that as to statutory requirements at their Surry County board at the November 2022 canvass that there were no irregularities as to the votes before them… Likewise that there were no irregularities with the Surry County canvass for the municipal election of 2023.”
“I move we find that the actions constitute an impermissible collateral attack on the court decisions and final administrative orders as has been issued by the state board and state staff. Such actions would be a violation of responsibilities to comply to the laws that exist, which does include orders of the court and directives from the state board, and further would find such actions constitute a breach of duty and a violation of the oath of office.”
It should be noted that all votes taken regarding Surry County matters were 4-0 in the affirmative, with state board member Tommy Tucker, one of two Republicans, not in attendance.
The Mount Airy News will have full coverage of this developing story including more information on the hearing, protests, and objections found therein in Thursday’s print edition.
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