Politics & Government

NC elections director, who led 9th District fraud investigation, may soon be out of a job

North Carolina may soon be looking for someone new to be in charge of elections.

The current executive director of the N.C. Board of Elections is Kim Strach, who rose to that position after starting at the agency as an investigator. But on Friday morning, the board announced a meeting Monday at which it plans to discuss the appointment of an executive director.

That would seem to indicate that Strach is on her way out, although Pat Gannon, the board spokesman declined to comment Friday, except to say that board members would be available to answer questions on Monday after the meeting.

WRAL reported that Strach is being booted by the board’s new Democratic majority.

Robert Cordle, a Democrat who is the new elections board chairman, declined to comment to the N&O until after the meeting Monday. David Black, a Republican board member, said he wouldn’t reveal who he thinks will replace Strach, but that he understands the majority on the board does want her gone.

“Kim Strach will be replaced,” he said. “I can’t comment on who that person may be right now.”

Gannon said Strach is not available for an interview.

Strach has spent 20 years at the board of elections, rising through the ranks from investigator to executive director, when she was appointed to the top job in 2013 during Republican Gov. Pat McCrory’s tenure.

Democrats haven’t always been Strach’s biggest fans.

The News & Observer has reported that Strach investigated at least three top Democratic politicians who were convicted of crimes — former Gov. Mike Easley, former Speaker of the House Jim Black and former Agriculture Commissioner Meg Scott Phipps. And Strach’s husband, Phil Strach, is one of the main lawyers that Republicans in the General Assembly have hired to defend them on lawsuits related to election law issues such as gerrymandering and voter ID.

Following the news Friday, prominent Republicans began voicing their support for Strach.

“She has always been non-partisan, highly competent, honest and tenacious,” tweeted former NC Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr.

Harnett County Rep. David Lewis, who leads much of the legislature’s work on election law and redistricting, said Strach kept the elections board apolitical. If she is replaced, he said, it should not be “for purely political reasons.”

“Kim Strach is an incredible public servant who has done her duties with great competence and without favor to either party,” Lewis said in a written statement. “Her dogged investigations of the Ninth Congressional District as well as the corruption of Governors Perdue and Easley have made her one of the strongest guardians of North Carolina’s democracy.”

The Board of Elections’ duties include monitoring elections and investigating allegations of election fraud, voter fraud, campaign finance violations and more. The board was historically set up so that a majority of members would be of the same party as the governor. But after Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper defeated McCrory in 2016, the Republican-led legislature rewrote state law to make it so that neither party would have a majority.

However, that change was ruled unconstitutional last October, and earlier this year the board went back to having a Democratic majority.

Election boards often have a fairly low profile, but that has not been the case in North Carolina recently.

The board has frequently been in the headlines, both for the election fraud investigation in the Ninth District race between Mark Harris and Dan McCready, as well as for the board’s efforts to get to the bottom of a vague reference in the Mueller Report that indicated a company providing election software in North Carolina may have been compromised by Russian hackers in 2016.

Strach makes $110,762 a year, according to an N&O database of state employee salaries.

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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 wdoran@newsobserver.com or (919) 836-2858.