State elections board complaint against Chatham elections board member dismissed

Posted 2/21/20

The N.C. State Board of Elections dismissed a complaint Friday filed against a Chatham County Board of Elections member.

The SBE voted 3-2 along party lines to drop the complaint against Pittsboro …

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State elections board complaint against Chatham elections board member dismissed

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The N.C. State Board of Elections dismissed a complaint Friday filed against a Chatham County Board of Elections member.

The SBE voted 3-2 along party lines to drop the complaint against Pittsboro resident Mark Barroso made by Pittsboro resident Mike Pool. In the complaint, Pool alleged that a Facebook comment made by Barroso and Barroso’s operation of the “Chatham for All” Facebook page showed “a clear bias” and warranted removal or resignation.

The Facebook post Pool shared in the complaint showed three comments — two from Pool, one from Barroso — regarding the first judge to handle a request for a restraining order filed by the Winnie Davis Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The UDC had asked the court to intervene as the Chatham County government prepared to remove the “Our Confederate Heroes” monument in front of the Chatham County Historic Courthouse in Pittsboro. Pool spoke at multiple Chatham County Board of Commissioners meetings in favor of keeping the monument in place. (Chatham For All, of which Barroso is a member, has helped lead the fight to remove the monument.)

The “first judge” in the case, Republican Casey Viser of Mecklenburg County, had granted a temporary restraining order on Oct. 28 of last year, but by the time the case was dismissed on December 2, the presiding judge on the case was Democrat Susan Bray of Guilford County.

Posting on comments about the first judge, Pool mentioned Barroso and said “well you were fortunate..what happened to the 1st judge.” In response, Barroso wrote, “As for the first judge, we stuffed him in a black Prius and took him to a re-education camp in California until he gets his thinking right.”

Chapter 163 of North Carolina state law says that county boards of election members may not “make written or oral statements intended for general distribution or dissemination to the public at large supporting or opposing the nomination or election of one or more clearly identified candidates for public office.” It was over this wording specifically that caused the state board to disagree on this case.

During the state board’s discussion Friday, multiple members said Barroso’s comment was inappropriate.

“I think that any county board member should probably get off of Facebook because it results in things like this,” said board member David Black, a Republican. “Mr. Barroso has some history in Chatham County. But based on what’s within the framework of what we decide, that probably doesn’t come into play.”

The board’s decision hinged on whether or not Barroso’s comment was specifically in reference to Viser — who is currently seeking re-election to his district judgeship — on its face. Democrat Stella Anderson argued that it did not.

“He has come right up to the line, and should exercise very much caution to make any statements about someone that appears to be someone that’s a candidate for office,” Anderson said. “Had I not seen Mr. Pool’s statements in the complaint, and I just looked at the Facebook post about the judge, I would have had no idea what he was talking about or whether or not this was someone elected or seeking election.”

The board’s 3-2 vote saw the three Democrats — Anderson, Jeff Carmon III and Chair Damon Circosta — choose to dismiss the complaint while Republicans Black and Ken Raymond voted to move it forward. But something the board generally agreed upon was that Barroso and other county-level elections board members should be careful in the future.

“I think if it were up to me,” Circosta said, “every singe county board of elections member would be off of Facebook and off of Twitter and conduct their activities accordingly.”

In a statement to the News + Record on Monday, Barroso said he was grateful that SBE did not proceed with the investigation.

“It’s unfortunate that Mike Pool took a joke out of context and misrepresented facts to the state board,” Barroso said. “That post never appeared on Chatham For All’s Facebook page. In fact, I had to ban Mike Pool from our page because he continued to make personal attacks after warning him to stop. We don’t give up First Amendment rights to be on the board of elections.”

Reporter Zachary Horner can be reached at zhorner@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @ZachHornerCNR.

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