North Carolina

NC Elections Board chairman resigns, apologizes following sexist joke at convention

Dowless refuses to testify without immunity; Board of Elections refuses

Board of Elections chair Bob Cordle refuses to grant McCrae Dowless immunity for testimony at a NC State Board of Elections hearing in Ralegh, NC, Feb 18, 2019. Dowless refused to testify.
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Board of Elections chair Bob Cordle refuses to grant McCrae Dowless immunity for testimony at a NC State Board of Elections hearing in Ralegh, NC, Feb 18, 2019. Dowless refused to testify.

Bob Cordle, the state Board of Elections chairman, resigned Tuesday night following reports about a sex joke he made Monday at a conference with hundreds of elections officials.

“I sincerely apologize to those who heard my joke at the elections conference on Monday and all those affected by my words,” Cordle said in a written statement Tuesday.

Cordle, a retired Charlotte lawyer, was the third state elections chairman since December. He was appointed in February as chair.

Gov. Roy Cooper’s office first announced Cordle’s resignation Tuesday night before the elections board sent Cordle’s letter to the media. The resignation is effective immediately.

“The resignation has been accepted, and we thank Chairman Cordle for his service,” Cooper said in a press release. “The State Board of Elections needs to continue its important work without distraction to ensure the integrity of our electoral process.”

WRAL reported Tuesday that Cordle told a lengthy joke about women, sex and cows during a Monday gathering of several hundred local elections officials from across the state that many in the audience found inappropriate.

Cordle was named to the board in December but previously served on the board for several years, having been appointed by Gov. Mike Easley in 2001. After two terms, Gov. Bev Perdue reappointed him, and he was on the board until 2013.

Bob Cordle, state board of elections chairman, asks questions about new documents entered into evidence during the fourth day of a public evidentiary hearing on the 9th Congressional District voting irregularities investigation Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019, at the North Carolina State Bar in Raleigh. TRAVIS LONG

NC Elections Board issues

His current tenure on the five-member board has been short but eventful, as the board faced issues involving election fraud and voting machines. The board also dismissed the elections director and replaced her.

“I thank you for the privilege to serve my state and the citizens of North Carolina in this important position and wish my fellow board members, Executive Director (Karen) Brinson Bell and State Board staff success in upcoming elections,” Cordle said.

The string of departures at the elections board began in December, when then-Chairman Andy Penry resigned amidst a controversy involving partisan posts he made on social media, including some critical of Republican President Donald Trump.

Cooper replaced Penry with Josh Malcolm, a lawyer from Robeson County, who was one of the first to publicly highlight the alleged election fraud in the 9th Congressional race in the southeastern area of the state.

While the elections board’s leadership was in turmoil these past few months, so was its legal status. It had been the subject of a power struggle between Cooper and Republican leaders at the General Assembly, who took away some of the governor’s traditional influence over the elections board after Cooper defeated Republican Gov. Pat McCrory in 2016.

Cooper sued over the legislature’s actions and won, causing the board to revert back to its traditional makeup. When that happened earlier this year, Malcolm said he wouldn’t rejoin the board.

That led Cooper to appoint Cordle as the new chairman in February.

Cordle has been overseeing a high-profile time for the elections board, which recently hired a new executive director in Brinson-Bell, who replaced Kim Strach. The board has also been under fire from some election cybersecurity advocates for an ongoing process about choosing voting machines for use in the 2020 elections and beyond.

There was news on the election fraud case Tuesday, when local political operative Leslie McCrae Dowless and others were charged with numerous crimes related to the alleged fraud benefiting the campaign for former Republican Congressional candidate Mark Harris.

The board is now scheduled to meet Thursday to discuss the issue of the voting machines, but it’s unclear what Cordle’s resignation means for that meeting. The board’s vote on certifying new machines has been delayed multiple times this summer.

Following Cordle’s resignation, Jeff Hauser, the NCGOP spokesman, criticized Cooper on social media: “For a career politician who spent more than 30 years in state government, @RoyCooperNC continues to prove he has no idea what he’s doing,” he tweeted.

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Will Doran reports on North Carolina politics, with a focus on state employees and agencies. In 2016 he started The News & Observer’s fact-checking partnership, PolitiFact NC, and before that he reported on local governments around the Triangle. Contact him at or (919) 836-2858.