North Carolina State Representative Duane Hall and former State Senator Linda Gunter have been accused of “ganging up” and intimidating a North Carolina voter distributing copies of a newspaper article at a Democratic primary early voting center.
Newspaper clipping or campaign material?
Cary, NC resident KaKi McKinney stood outside the Herbert C. Young Community Center on April 27th during early voting for the Democratic primary. In her hand was a folder containing 40 copies of a News & Observer article recounting sexual harassment allegations against incumbent District 11 State Representative Duane Hall. Handing out the copies, McKinney maintains, was entirely her own initiative. In her own words she said, “People at least needed a chance to read the article and just make a decision for themselves.”
According to McKinney, after several hours of distributing copies of the article a woman approached her, took up a position above her on some stairs, and began taking her photograph and telling her that distributing the newspaper article was illegal.
The woman, Hall supporter and former State Senator Linda Gunter, objected to the lack of disclaimer on the material indicating which campaign had paid for them (even though, as McKinney tried to made clear, she was acting merely as a concerned private citizen and not as part of a campaign).
Gunter denies telling McKinney she was engaged in illegal activity, but did make a formal complaint about McKinney to the North Carolina Board of Elections & Ethics Enforcement, submitting one of the photos she had taken as evidence.
“It really scared me,” McKinney said about being photographed in a video posted to the News & Observer website. “It really put me on edge because I have a past with that.”
Soon afterwards, Representative Hall himself and another man came forward to join the increasingly heated discussion, much to McKinney’s discomfort.
McKinney explained, “It was the three of them with my back against the wall. They were very loudly saying, ‘You are illegal. What you are doing is illegal…I have talked to the board of elections.'”
“It felt like they were ganging up on me,” she said.
According to McKinney, Hall complained that she was not listening to his side of the story.
“Why would I when you’re all yelling at me,” she recounts saying.
John Parrish, who was at the voting center representing the campiagn of State Senate candidate Wiley Nickel, witnessed the confrontation and gave the News & Observer his account of the incident.
“It was somewhat heated. It wasn’t yelling, but it was stern. Duane and his helper were very stern that she shouldn’t be doing that,” he said.
“If someone talks to you, takes your picture, and then you’re crying and you leave, it certainly looks like intimidation.”
Linda Gunter follows through with complaint
Despite McKinney’s explanation that she was distributing copies of a newspaper clipping in a personal capacity, Linda Gunter nevertheless reported McKinney to the state election board for a campaign finance violation.
Speaking of the lack of disclaimer, Gunter said, “[It] was a red flag to me since I have never seen anything passed out at the polls without it in the 30+ years I have worked the polls….If Kaki had paid for it and was passing it out she should be proud enough to put her name on it for everyone to see.”
The board of election sees things differently, however. Spokesperson Patrick Gannon has said McKinney’s actions would not likely trigger an investigation as the newspaper article did not contain language supporting or opposing a candidate and was paid for privately, not using campaign contributions.
In a statement Gannon said, “We do not have evidence that any campaign finance violation occurred based on the complaint from Linda Gunter. We also do not have evidence that any disclosure of spending would be required.”
Problems with campaign material
This is the second time the contents of campaign material have been an issue in Duane Hall’s reelection bid. The first was Hall’s use of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) logo without permission on a mailer underneath the heading “Endorsed by.”
Not only was the implied endorsement from the DNC not accurate, but the incident triggered the DNC to join other Democratic leaders and organizations and call for Hall to resign.
“We take sexual harassment very seriously and we are very concerned by the allegations against Hall. We stand with Governor Cooper’s and NCDP’s calls for him to step down,” DNC spokesperson Francisco Pelayo said.
But Hall has not stepped down, and, as Linda Gunter has demonstrated, he still has the backing of some influential local Democrats.
Early voting is now closed for the primary, which is taking place today (polls close at 7:30pm). Whether or not Hall has the chance to run in the general election in November is now in the hands of North Carolina voters.
UPDATE: According to unofficial polling results, challenger Allison Dahle defeated Duane Hall in the North Carolina Democratic primary on May 8th with roughly 68% of the vote. Hall had outspent Dahle nearly two to one.