Two people on the Surry County Board of Elections face a hearing to remove them from the board after they circulated a letter calling the 2022 elections “illegal,” and one refused to certify the results.
A complaint filed with the North Carolina State Board of Elections says Jerry Forestieri and Timothy DeHaan should be removed from the Surry County board.
In the letter, the two Surry County men took issue with a 2018 federal court ruling that stopped voter ID requirements in North Carolina. They did not question the results in their county in the foothills northwest of Winston-Salem.
“Secretary Forestieri and Member DeHaan failed to uphold their oaths of office while executing the duties of their offices as county board members during the Surry County canvass meeting,” said Bob Hall, the former head of the left-leaning Democracy NC, in his complaint to the state board.
“Their inflammatory language, as expressed in the Canvass Letter and confirmed during the board meeting, shows an unmistakable failure to support the federal and state constitutions as interpreted by our courts, and to instead substitute their own version of election law in its place,” Hall said.
Forestieri and DeHann declined to comment on the complaint while they are waiting on a hearing with the State Board of Elections. The board has not yet set a date for the hearing.
In the letter, they shared with the board on Nov. 18, during the canvas meeting when members were to certify the election results, they took aim at U.S. District Court Judge Loretta Biggs.
“The legitimacy of all elections activities in North Carolina is based on the ability to prove accurate voter registration records, voter ID validated at time of voting, NC Constitutional Amendments and related laws. These necessities were missing in the recent 2022 elections, as they have been since 2018,” Forestieri and DeHann wrote.
“All elections conducted in all counties in NC have a very uncertain validity,” they wrote.
The letter incorrectly states Biggs ruled against a constitutional amendment that would have required voters to show photo identification in North Carolina. It was actually a state court that stopped voter ID from going into effect, but Biggs had earlier issued a temporary injunction to stop voter ID for the 2020 elections.
The North Carolina Supreme Court ruled on the case late last year, throwing out the voter ID requirement. But the new Republican majority on the state’s highest court decided recently to reopen the case for a new hearing.
Surry County Elections Director Michella Huff said Forestieri and DeHann had signed to certify other results in the November elections.
“I was just very shocked and surprised by the document. I did not see it coming,” she said in an interview Tuesday.
There have been very few accusations of voter fraud in North Carolina in recent elections. The most high profile claim in the last election accused ex-congressman and former President Donald Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows of voting in North Carolina when he didn’t actually live in the state.
Meadows was not charged in the case, but he was removed from the voter rolls.
Election denial and conspiracies, stoked by Trump before and after the 2020 elections, have led to threats and violence, including the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol as Congress met to certify the election results.
False narratives around the 2020 elections have also made life difficult for election administrators in North Carolina, where Trump won. County officials have received massive public records requests about the elections, including in Surry County.
Election records are typically destroyed after 22 months, based on state record keeping requirements. But the Surry County Board of Elections voted to keep the 2020 election records until 2025 because of unfounded claims of fraud nationally in the election.
Huff said the county rents a storage unit just to keep the 2020 election records.
Trump won Surry County with more than 75% of the vote in 2020.
“We actually have a couple of lawsuits that are pending right now requesting records that do not exist for the 2020 election,” Huff said. “With what happened last year with the election deniers that sort of zoomed in and focused here in Surry County, it’s just been a lot.”
Adding to the work on Huff’s plate is a special election for a seat on the Dobson Town Commission. Early voting began there on Thursday. The State Board of Elections ordered a new election after a poll worker told voters that one of the candidates had died.
“As a poll worker you’re never to indicate or give any information about any candidate on the ballot,” Huff said, even if that’s to tell voters truthfully that a candidate has passed away before the election.
The letter from the two on the Surry County Board of Elections did not question the results in Surry County. But between the controversy the letter has stirred up and the vitriol the election director and her staff have heard since the 2020 elections, Huff said it has been taxing.
“It’s tiring, it’s exhausting, it’s disappointing,” she said.
Running elections is a lot of work, especially during big elections. County election staff in Surry and around North Carolina have to work long hours, giving up time with their friends and families, to ensure a fair election.
“We knew that when we signed up for it. But this is different,” she said. “You’re screamed at. You receive mailers. We received one a couple of weeks ago that said, ‘F-U’ — of course it was spelled out — ‘Trump won.’”
It will be up to the State Board of Elections to decide whether to remove Forestieri and DeHann from the Surry County Board of Elections. And that decision could be appealed to the courts.
“They have disavowed allegiance to the constitutional powers and authorities established by the state of North Carolina in defiance of their sworn oath to do so, and they cannot be entrusted with the duties of administering said election law as a result,” Hall argued in a filing with the state board.
“Forestieri and DeHaan have thus rejected their oath of office and neglected their duties, and they should be removed,” Hall said.
In their Nov. 18 letter, Forestieri and DeHaan argued that is was their oath of office that they were upholding by objecting to the results.
“This most recent election has again failed to show it did not produce false results based on bloated voter registrations and ghost voters pretending to be real citizens of the counties of this great State,” they said.
There has been no evidence of “ghost voters” in North Carolina, and election officials say voter rolls and election results are thoroughly audited to make sure elections are fair and accurate.
“If left unchecked, Forestieri and DeHaan may be the first of many board members throughout the state and across the political spectrum who cannot be trusted to faithfully certify election results or who would undermine the credibility of our elections,” Hall said in a filing with the state board.