RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A former North Carolina Republican lawmaker who was observing an early voting site in Wake Forest on behalf of his party was charged Friday with a Class 3 misdemeanor for allegedly assaulting a poll worker.
Gary Pendleton, a 73-year-old former state House lawmaker and former Wake County commissioner, confirmed the charge. He said he had pushed an early voting official who he says blocked his pathway to enter the polling site around 7:30 a.m.
At the direction of his county party, Pendleton said he had sought to gain access to the site an hour before the polls opened at 8 a.m. to make sure no fraudulent voting activities were taking place. He said he was met by a security guard who refused him entrance.
When he asked for a supervisor to let him in, the supervisor instructed him that he’d have to wait outside. Frustrated with the experience, Pendleton tried to re-enter about 20 minutes later, where he was again refused entry by the same elections official.
“He was on one side, and I said, ‘Well, I’ll just go around you,’” Pendleton said. “So I went around, he jumped over in front of me about 3 feet (away) mouth to mouth. I pushed him back because I don’t want to get COVID-19.”
Gary Sims, Wake County’s elections director, and Pat Gannon, a spokesman for the State Board of Elections, confirmed the incident had taken place. Sims said poll workers should never be faced with violence.
“Nobody comes to work expecting to be assaulted,” Sims said.
Law enforcement arrived after the polls opened and cited Pendleton with the Class 3 misdemeanor. He then left the early voting site.
Pendleton said the officers who cited him compared his violation to “hunting without a hunting license.” The Wake County Sheriff’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the incident.
Pendleton will not be permitted to serve as a poll observer for the rest of this election cycle, Gannon said. He plans to appeal the assault charge in court.
The North Carolina Republican Party condemned Pendleton’s actions and expressed apologies on his behalf.
“Our training specifically prohibits any attempt to obstruct a voter or inhibit the election process,” said a statement from the party’s press secretary, Tim Wigginton. “Gary Pendleton violated our policy with his actions today, and he will no longer be volunteering. He acknowledges his mistake and apologizes for his action.”
Pendleton minimized his actions, insisting he did not shove the worker to the ground and was incapable of causing physical harm to the assistant supervisor who had denied him entry.
“I’m a 73-year-old partially disabled veteran,” Pendleton said. “This guy was about 50. I don’t think I could’ve done much damage to him.”
Pendleton said he monitored a different early voting site in Wake County on Thursday, where he was granted access before the polls opened at 8 a.m. When he was denied access to the Wake Forest location on Friday, he was confused by the inconsistency and felt he had been deliberately mistreated because of his political party.
“This is a Democrat-Republican thing, and I’m probably one of the most well-known Republicans in the county,” Pendleton said.
Sims confirmed some poll observers had been wrongfully permitted to enter early-voting facilities on Thursday before voting began at 8 a.m. He said he informed those sites that workers should not let people into buildings before 8 a.m. going forward.
Sims said poll observers are allowed to monitor voting activities but not the site meetings, time sheet completion and turning on of the machines, which takes place before the doors open.
“The purpose of an observer is to observe the voting,” Sims said.
He also pushed back against allegations of poll workers exhibiting a bias favoring Democrats.
“That is not a fair statement,” Sims said of Pendleton’s claims. “I understand that may be a defensive statement, but that’s not a fair statement.”
The spelling has been corrected for the name of Tim Wigginton, press secretary for the North Carolina Republican party.
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