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NC Elections Board Chair On 9th District Hearing, Election Security

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The North Carolina Board of Elections is navigating some constantly changing terrain right now. There's a handful of special elections, lawsuits over photo ID and redistricting, a justice department subpoena, and election security. On top of all that, there's ballot fraud in the 9th Congressional District. Charlotte attorney Bob Cordle was appointed to the board in December and then again in January, when the makeup of up it changed due to court order. He's now the board's chairman. He talked with WFAE's Lisa Worf.

Lisa Worf:Good morning, Mr. Cordle.

Bob Cordle: Good morning, Lisa.

Worf:Are you sure you want this job?

Cordle: That's a good question. I'm not sure. I certainly didn't seek it out that's for sure.

Worf: So for more than 100 years, the elections board has had the same makeup and it's gone through at least three changes in the last two, three years as Republican lawmakers have tried to restructure it. You're a Democrat. How does the political pressure impact the board and its work?

Cordle:Well, I think the board is a political body. It's constituted right now with three Democrats and two Republicans. Of course there's going to be some partisanship involved in certain things. But the administration of the elections, which is our big job, is not a partisan issue it's to try to make a fair election in North Carolina. And it's should be fair for everybody.

[Related: Justice Department Issues Subpoena To NC Elections Board For 9th District Probe ]

Worf:Do you think the board has worked pretty well as a board making decisions that are nonpartisan regarding partisan elections?

Cordle:Well, I think that it's as nonpartisan as you can get when you get a 5 to 0 vote on a new election for the Ninth District.

Worf: About that investigation in that hearing. Less than a month into your time as board chair the board held the hearing into ballot fraud in the 9th Congressional District. How did that hearing and its outcome measure up to your expectations.

Cordle:It came about two and a half weeks after we became the board and after I was elected chairman. And I think the best thing the board did was to allow the staff to make the presentation. The staff had all of the evidence, had done all of the investigation. We couldn't learn everything about it in two weeks, as you could imagine. So we in effect got out of the way. So I think that's one of the best things we did.

Worf:And when did you know that Mark Harris' son John Harris' testimony was coming?

Cordle:We knew that the second week in February. Now one of the things I did was try to advise the staff that they, they were talking about putting Dr. Harris on and then putting John on afterwards and I suggested to him and frankly right strongly that they not do it that way. That they put John Harris on first. I didn't like the idea of the board ambushing the father by the son. And they came to that same conclusion. And that's the way they presented.

Worf:What questions do you still have as far as what happened in Bladen County?

Cordle:Well, we still have a lot of questions. I'm not sure there are things for us to try to answer though. They may be more things in line with the criminal investigation that goes on. You know, the sheriff for instance down there was also paying McCrae Dowless campaign funding for... So he was doing some work for the sheriff. The county commission down there we know they were friends and knowledgeable about McCrae Dowless and they had even some members of that board had recommended him to Dr. Harris. We don't know if they were involved or knew about all of these things. Frankly, we don't know how much the Republican Party knew about some of these things.

Worf:Another thing I wanted to ask you about. It's now clear that the Russian government tried to interfere with elections through cyber attacks that targeted state elections infrastructure. Is North Carolina prepared for 2020?

Cordle:Well, we are certainly working toward that. First off, we should have some new voting equipment by that time that may be better protected. We've had the Homeland Security folks and folks from the military or the National Guard I should say come in to North Carolina and work with us. That is our staff has. I guess we have hired more folks in this area to work on it. But you know if the Russians are really after you just like our NSA is after you that way, they're pretty darn good at getting into places and finding things. So we have to work harder at that and we have to try to keep the machines and other voting things off the internet as much as we can.

Worf:Chairman of the state elections board Bob Cordle, thank you.

Cordle: Thank you.

Copyright 2019 WFAE

Lisa Worf traded the Midwest for Charlotte in 2006 to take a job at WFAE. She worked with public TV in Detroit and taught English in Austria before making her way to radio. Lisa graduated from University of Chicago with a bachelor’s degree in English.