RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A formal examination of whether North Carolina Rep. Madison Cawthorn is disqualified to run for Congress based on the U.S. Constitution won’t occur because redistricting changes have moved the location of the district he sought to compete in, a state election official said Thursday.
But the disclosure doesn’t mean additional candidate challenges this year against Cawthorn are snuffed out, according to a group that helped instigated them. The first-term Republican has been the focus of complaints filed by roughly a dozen voters living in what was supposed to be the 13th Congressional District that Cawthorn had filed to run in back in December.
The voters contend Cawthorn fails to comply with a portion of a post-Civil War amendment to the Constitution pertaining to insurrections. They say Cawthorn’s involvement in the January 2021 rally that supported then-President Donald Trump and preceded the U.S. Capitol riot, along with other information, provide a “reasonable suspicion or belief” that he helped facilitate the insurrection.
Cawthorn said that portion of the 14th Amendment doesn’t apply and that he has “never engaged in, or would ever engage in, an insurrection against the United States.”
The state’s congressional map has been redrawn twice since the challenges were filed, ending with a court-adopted plan Wednesday in which the 13th District is now in east-central North Carolina. The challengers are now ineligible because they don’t live in the latest 13th District, State Board of Elections attorney Katelyn Love wrote to the voters’ attorneys.
The board was expected at some point to form a special panel of county board members from that district to investigate the challenges. But “because the 13 candidate challenges filed by your clients are no longer valid under North Carolina law, the State Board of Elections will not proceed to appoint a panel to hear these challenges,” Love wrote.
Free Speech for People, a national election and campaign finance reform group backing the challenges, said in a written statement Thursday that they’ll keep pressing for his disqualification.
“We will be refiling this challenge on behalf of voters who live in the congressional district which Madison Cawthorn selects for his candidacy,” the group said.
Cawthorn has until Tuesday to withdraw as a 13th District candidate and until midday March 4 to file for another seat. A spokesman for Cawthorn didn’t immediately respond to an email Thursday seeking comment about the board’s decision and what his electoral plans now are for 2022.
The new 13th District is now more than 200 miles east of where Cawthorn lives, which is in the far-western 11th District that he currently represents. The 11th is largely intact in the new map and is considered a Republican-leaning district. The new 13th District is likely a toss-up.
Love’s letter was also filed in U.S. District Court, which is judging a lawsuit filed by Cawthorn. He wants to stop the challenge against him and have the entire process struck down, saying it violates a candidate’s constitutional rights. The lawsuit could become moot if the current challenge won’t move ahead. U.S. District Judge Richard Myers scheduled a meeting Friday with the lawsuit’s attorneys.