N. Carolina election chief threatened by Republican leader
A local Republican Party official in North Carolina demanded access to voting equipment, claiming a 'chip' in voting machines used to steal the election from Donald Trump.
The state elections board reported that a local Republican Party leader in North Carolina threatened to terminate or reduce the pay of a county elections director unless she helped him acquire unauthorized access to voting equipment.
William Keith Senter, a party official, sought information to bolster fake conspiracy theories saying that the 2020 election was rigged against former US President Donald Trump. The previously undisclosed incident is part of a nationwide campaign by Trump supporters to examine voting systems to back the illegitimate stolen-election accusations.
Senter, the chair of the Surry County Republican Party, informed elections director Michella Huff that if she refused his demand for access to the county's vote tabulators, she would lose her job, the North Carolina State Board of Elections said in written responses to Reuters inquiry. According to witness testimonies, Senter was "aggressive, threatening, and confrontational" in two encounters with Huff, according to the state elections board.
Senter did not respond to requests for comment.
The act of political intimidation bothered Huff, who rebuffed Senter's requests. Since the 2020 election, such threats have become prevalent around the country. In a series of investigative pieces, Reuters identified over 900 threatening or antagonistic texts addressed at election authorities.
"It’s a shame, that it is being normalized," Huff told Reuters. "I didn’t expect to get it here in our county. We are just trying to do our job by the law."
Senter's requests may be illegal under state law. Mark Payne, an attorney retained by the Surry County Board of Elections, indicated last week in a legal brief responding to community calls for a "forensic audit" of voting machines that giving unauthorized individuals access to voting machines was illegal. Anyone who threatens or intimidates an election official faces felony charges under state law.
Senter and Douglas Frank, a prominent pro-Trump election conspiracist, met with Huff on March 28, claiming "there was a 'chip' in the voting machines that pinged a cellular phone tower on Nov. 3, 2020, and somehow influenced election results," according to the state election board, which called the claim "fabricated disinformation." Separately, Senter threatened to have Huff's pay lowered at a public event that Huff did not attend, according to Huff, who said a participant at the meeting notified her about the threat.
Two days before meeting with Huff, Frank gave a speech in Dobson, a town in the rural county of 72,000 people on the northern border with Virginia, where he spoke about "debunked conspiracy theories about the 2020 election," the board said. The day after the meeting, Frank, an Ohio math teacher, thanked his "patriot" hosts in a post to the messaging app Telegram about his trip to North Carolina and said he was "leaving behind a bonfire burning in good hands.”
Frank did not respond to requests for comment.
Senator, to face Huff?
It's unclear how Senter intended to react against Huff. He claimed to have the support of Surry County commissioners, all of whom are Republicans, to pursue legal action against her. However, neither Senter nor the commission has any official authority over her position, which is held by the state electoral board. The state board is made up of three Democrats and two Republicans.
Huff, a former Republican, is now registered, independent.
Bill Goins, chairman of the county commission, declined to comment on Senter's attempts but affirmed that the panel could not terminate Huff.
The state board of elections spokesman, Patrick Gannon, said in a statement that the board reported the threats against Huff to state, federal, and local law enforcement and that the board would continue to report "any attempts to interfere with state or federal elections or harass or intimidate election officials."
No one has been charged in the incident.
On Saturday, neither the North Carolina Department of Public Safety nor the Federal Bureau of Investigation responded to calls for comment.
Dobson Police Chief Shawn Myers said he was not aware of the threats to Huff and did not believe his department had responded. Sheriff Steve Hiatt did not respond to requests for comment.