top of page

Is The Big Lie coming to Brunswick County?

Is The Big Lie coming to Brunswick County?

Prepared statement from the Brunswick County Democratic Party

Board of Elections Meeting, April 18, 2023

The Brunswick County Democratic Party (BCDP) is pleased to submit this statement opposing a resolution to bar the Board of Elections (BOE) from accepting assistance from private organizations.

Democrats in Brunswick County are proud of our BOE, which has deservedly received accolades for its performance in conducting fair and open elections. In 2022, after a nationwide review, the BOE was recognized by the U.S. Alliance for Election Excellence as one of just 10 “Centers for Election Excellence” in the country. It was praised as “a leader in safe, secure and inclusive elections that put voters first.” Last month, Sara LaVere, Brunswick County’s director of elections, was honored by her peers, who elected her president of the North Carolina Association of Directors of Elections.

So it’s especially offensive a resolution approved by the Brunswick County Commission on March 20 and supported by the Republican Party falsely impugns the Board’s integrity and needlessly undermines confidence in elections — all based on a debunked conspiracy theory.

The excellent BOE staff and the Board’s members have worked diligently to oversee fair and open elections in our county. We don’t need bodies like the GOP-controlled County Commission and their ilk at the state and national levels replacing the sound judgment and experience of the BOE. We must ensure the BOE remains independent of partisan lies and pressures.

The accusation is part of The Big Lie

The Resolution suggests without proof or documentation of any kind that the funding was partisan and pressures the BOE to withdraw from the Alliance. This fact-free accusation is yet another conspiracy theory accusing Democrats of “election meddling.” It is, as we will show, a local version of a falsehood whose basis is rooted in conspiracy theories that emerged from a former president’s dishonest declarations he won the 2020 election. It represents, in fact, the arrival of The Big Lie in Brunswick County politics.

PolitiFact debunked the GOP’s central argument, noting that “if meddling to benefit Democrats was the goal, then it was a strange strategy to provide the money to every single jurisdiction that applied.”

In a unanimous, bipartisan decision, the Federal Election Commission rejected claims the donations were designed to help Democrats in the 2020 election. The FEC found no evidence that the Center for Election Innovation and Research, or Mark Zuckerburg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, “committed any wrongdoing.”

Finally, multiple courts have upheld the grants as lawful.

Benefits of Alliance membership

Far from some sort of misguided conspiracy theory, the BOE’s association with the Alliance and its antecedent, the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL), has been good for the voters of Brunswick County. The 2020 election took place during the worst pandemic in a century. Private money was needed because the federal government hadn’t provided enough funding. Congress allocated $400 million for election services, but that was just a tenth of what officials said was needed.

Many election officials credited the programs with “saving the election” in 2020 as local officials struggled during COVID to maintain adequate staffing and resources, noting that it was essential to prevent an "election meltdown."

According to Ballotpedia, the CTCL distributed $7,188,264 to North Carolina. Brunswick County received $67,291. The Alliance, formed in 2022, allows BOEs to share best practices and learn from each other. The BOE should continue its Alliance membership because it would otherwise have to replace private funds with tax dollars or do without.

Inadequate funding is the problem

The real problem is not the BOE’s association with the Alliance. Rather, it is underfunding by North Carolina’s Republican-controlled legislature and Brunswick County’s GOP commissioners.

In 2022, the average American county spent $17.10 per voter to administer elections. Brunswick County spent $7.86 less per voter.

When Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed a resolution in 2021 similar to the one we oppose today, he said, “The legislature should start properly funding elections boards to ensure accessible, safe, and secure elections every time, which would end the need for [private] grants.”

The BCDP supports Gov. Cooper’s statement. The Republican-controlled legislature could easily end the need for private funding by using a tiny fraction of the state’s projected $3.25 billion Surplus and 10.7% revenue Increase for FY 2022-23.

The commissioners’ resolution admits we have an urgent need to increase BOE funding. It also urges the North Carolina General Assembly to “appropriate funds” to replace the benefits it gets from Alliance membership. But, unless and until the legislature does so, banning private grants because of debunked conspiracy theories would baselessly impugn the BOE’s integrity, recklessly undermine confidence in elections, and needlessly make it harder for us to vote.

The Alliance’s accusers are guilty of what they’re complaining about

The County Commission’s baseless attack is orchestrated by privately funded right-wing groups, who promote voting restrictions they believe will help Republicans win elections. They include:

  1. The John Locke Society, funded by North Carolina’s Art Pope, described as our state’s most politically powerful unelected individual. Pope, while state budget director, helped make North Carolina the country’s most gerrymandered state. He was in the room — literally — directing technicians when dark money-funded groups worked behind the scenes with Republican state legislators and operatives in 2010 to draw up the redistricting maps which led to the party’s sweep of state and federal legislative races that year, according to the watchdog journalism site ProPublica.

  2. The 85 Fund, founded by Leonard Leo, a Trump ally and VP of the conservative Federalist Society. The 85 Fund’s “Honest Elections Project” advocates the independent state legislature theory that claims state legislatures have sole authority to establish and enforce state election laws and rules, without judicial or executive review. It has argued the doctrine in amicus briefs to the United States Supreme Court, which is now considering Moore v. Harper, a case brought by North Carolina Republicans that could break our democracy. It would allow state legislatures controlled by one party, made possible through gerrymandering, to decide the outcome of federal elections against the will of the majority of voters.

  3. Heritage Action, which has spent millions trying to restrict voting. Their executive director, Jessica Anderson, bragged about getting restrictive legislation enacted by Republican legislatures after the 2020 election. “In some cases, we actually draft them for them,” Anderson said of legislation written for state lawmakers. "We did it quickly and we did it quietly...Little fanfare. Honestly, nobody even noticed. My team looked at each other and we're like, 'It can't be that easy'.”

Election Boards are under siege because of conspiracy theories like this

Continued harassment in the wake of The Big Lie has contributed to high turnover among election officials across the country. Politicians’ attacks on the system, and stress, are the primary reasons they plan to leave, according to the study. Nearly eight in 10 local election officials say threats against them have increased in recent years, and a majority say they are either very or somewhat concerned about the safety of their fellow administrators.

BOEs around the country are experiencing the same pressures our own BOE faces. Kane County Illinois was another of the 10 counties recognized for election excellence. The fact that its county clerk, Jack Cunningham, has been a Republican for more than 60 years did not stop the Kane County Republican Party from mobilizing against him with a flyer stamped “Exposing election corruption in Kane County.”

Last week, NBC News reported the staff members of the Election Board in Buckingham, Virginia quit because they were being hounded by bogus claims of election fraud. The four departures left residents without a functioning registrar’s office and no way to register to vote or certify candidate paperwork. Margaret Thomas, who worked as the general registrar in Buckingham County for more than 28 years, said, “It’s just sad that The Big Lie has come to Buckingham.”

The next conspiracy theory: ERIC

Urged on by the GOP conspiracy, the County Commission won’t stop with baseless attacks such as the resolution under consideration today. On April 15, the New York Times reported on a concerted, nationwide effort to browbeat local election boards into making it harder to vote. It cites the growing list of Republican-controlled states that have withdrawn from the bipartisan nonprofit data consortium known as the Electronic Registration Information Center, or ERIC.

ERIC was created to help states maintain accurate voter rolls through information sharing. It helps guard against fraud by allowing states to crosscheck for inaccurate or outdated voting records and helps identify potential new voters who haven’t yet registered.

Karen Brinson Bell has wanted North Carolina to join ERIC since she took over as executive director of the State Board of Elections in 2019. Last year, the legislature finally agreed. Then, on March 6, Trump called on every Republican-controlled state to withdraw from ERIC, which he baselessly claimed “pumps the rolls” for Democrats.

On March 20, our own Republican-controlled legislature filed a bill reversing field and banning North Carolina from joining ERIC.

All told, seven Republican-controlled states have heeded Trump’s call and withdrawn.

Refusing to share voter information that ensures voter rolls are accurate proves that Republicans have no interest in election integrity. They want to be able to spread election lies and will destroy common-sense programs like ERIC and the Alliance because they stand in their way.

Don’t reward conspiracy theories

The question isn’t whether the BOE’s membership in the Alliance was an effort by private donors to influence the election; there is no evidence of that. Nor is it the broader question of whether private money has any role in the administration of elections. The groups that mobilized this attack against the BOE’s integrity were funded by private donors.

What’s at stake here is whether truth matters anymore, whether the Big Lie will succeed.

For the BOE to cave to pressure based on unsupported accusations would simply reward and validate the conspiracy theorists and fan the flames of election denialism. It won’t stop with withdrawing from the Alliance. It won’t stop with withdrawing from ERIC. It will not end harassment of election boards. It will only reward it and encourage it to get worse.

Don’t let the nationwide Republican conspiracy devalue our electoral process and taint the good work our BOE provides for every election. We urge you to reject this resolution. Don’t let The Big Lie find a home in Brunswick County.


bottom of page