A former North Carolina state legislator who was serving as an official Republican Party poll watcher has been charged with assault after pushing a poll worker on Friday, which was the second day of early in-person voting in the state. The perpetrator was Gary Pendleton, who was serving as a poll watcher in Wake Forest, North Carolina. He attempted to enter the polling location before it opened to the public, and after a poll worker declined to let him enter — in line with official policy, a local elections official has explained — Pendleton pushed the worker.
A Republican poll observer in North Carolina was charged with assault Friday morning after he pushed an election worker who was preventing him from entering an early-voting center in Wake Forest, north of Raleigh. https://t.co/sclUVG6s01
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) October 16, 2020
According to the summary from the local publication The News & Observer, Pendleton says that “he asked the poll worker in Wake Forest what was he was trying to hide” — but there is zero indication that the poll worker was trying to hide anything at all. The incident of physical harassment that Pendleton perpetrated seems to have grown from the right-wing conspiracy theories that there is some kind of plot to perpetrate election fraud around the country. There is no such plot — it does not exist.
Pendleton, for his part, served for one term in the lower house of the North Carolina state legislature, and he has also previously served as a Wake County commissioner. Pendleton suggests that his physical harassment of the poll worker was at least partly based in concern about the spread of COVID-19, but this excuse seems dubious — at best. Pendleton claimed, referring to the poll worker:
‘He stepped in front of me, at about three feet. We both had on masks, and I took both my hands and pushed him back a little bit. I didn’t push him hard. I just pushed him back a little bit to get out of my face because we do have COVID-19 going on.’
If Pendleton was actually concerned about the spread of COVID-19, then why would he have initiated physical contact?
The assault charge that Pendleton faces is a misdemeanor offense, and it’s not immediately clear what the next step for the case might be. The poll worker was not injured. Gary Sims, who serves as the director of the Wake County Board of Elections, says that Pendleton has been “warned not to return to voting locations as an observer.” Sims has also explained that on Thursday, some early voting locations had allowed poll watchers in before the premises was open to the public, but authorities “communicated with them today that they shouldn’t be doing that,” Sims said on Friday.
The incident involving the assault that Pendleton perpetrated is one of many possible real-world examples of potential consequences of the GOP’s lies about the prevalence of election fraud. In reality, election fraud is rare, and there is no indication of some kind of looming fraud-based threat to the integrity of the election in this cycle.
Nevertheless, Trump has even suggested that foreign countries might submit fraudulent ballots to be counted along with legitimate ones, but there is zero evidence for this possibility. He has also cited isolated and very limited incidents of mishandled mail and ballots as supposed evidence of a fraud threat, but the support for his idea of some kind of systemic problem is just not there.