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NCGOP faces lawsuit that says it botched election for party chair

Former Vice President Mike Pence, center, joins with North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Michael Whatley, left, and U.S. Senate candidate Ted Budd for a conversation at the state GOP headquarters in Raleigh, N.C., on Wednesday. Nov. 2, 2022. Pence was in North Carolina to support Budd’s campaign.
Gary D. Robertson
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AP
Former Vice President Mike Pence, center, joins with North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Michael Whatley, left, and U.S. Senate candidate Ted Budd for a conversation at the state GOP headquarters in Raleigh, N.C., on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022. Pence was in North Carolina to support Budd’s campaign.

A group of GOP activists is suing the North Carolina Republican Party over what they say is a botched election for party chair.

Hundreds of NCGOP delegates met in Greensboro last month to elect new party leaders. But a lawsuit filed this week by several of the delegates calls for a judge to void the results and order a new election.

They say the election for party chair and vice chair was conducted using a cell phone app developed by party staff. That app counted votes from people who weren’t eligible to participate and even people who weren’t in the state, the lawsuit claims.

“It’s an open question in our minds as to how many of those votes that should not have been tabulated were actually counted in the chair election, and what impact that might have had on the outcome,” said James Lawrence, an attorney representing the plaintiffs.

The lawsuit says the election should have used paper ballots, with only eligible delegates inside the convention hall allowed to vote.

Incumbent Party Chairman Michael Whatley was declared the winner. But his opponent, John Kane, refused to concede — making the same complaints highlighted in the lawsuit. Kane compares the election to what he claims was a fraudulent 2020 presidential election — a baseless lie proliferated by Trump.

The WUNC Politics Podcast is a free-flowing discussion of what we're hearing in the back hallways of the General Assembly and on the campaign trail across North Carolina.

“Since the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump, our party has focused tirelessly on election integrity,” Kane wrote in a letter to Whatley that he posted to the Conservative website Rumble. “It has been, and continues to be, the number one issue in our state. … Yet, you could not conduct an election between two candidates with less than 2,000 people voting, all in the same room.”

Lawrence declined to say whether Kane is involved in the lawsuit; he is not one of the named plaintiffs in the case.

The convention adjourned before a formal election was held for vice chair, and the lawsuit says current Vice Chair Susan Mills shouldn’t be continuing to serve.

“The party's plan of organization specifically says that it's an elected position, and yet no election happened,” Lawrence said. “And instead, the incumbent was reinstalled for an additional two-year term.”

It’s unclear whether the courts have the power to get involved in a political party’s internal elections. The lawsuit says the party breached a contract because the delegates paid $75 to participate under rules that weren’t followed.

“The NCGOP is not ‘The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants,’” the lawsuit says. “North Carolina courts have consistently required private associations of less public significance than the NCGOP to follow their own rules and governing policies.”

A spokesman for the N.C. Republican Party declined to comment on the lawsuit. The lawsuit was first reported by The Daily Haymaker, a conservative blog.

Lawrence says he’s now waiting on a Wake County Superior Court judge to schedule a hearing in the case.

Colin Campbell covers politics for WUNC as the station's capitol bureau chief.