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NEW YORK: A local Republican Party leader in North Carolina threatened to get a county elections director fired or have her pay cut unless she helped him gain illegal access to voting equipment, the state elections board told Reuters.

The party official, William Keith Senter, sought evidence to support false conspiracy theories alleging the 2020 election was rigged against former US President Donald Trump. The previously unreported incident is part of a national effort by Trump supporters to audit voting systems to bolster the baseless stolen-election claims.

Senter, chair of the Surry County Republican Party, told elections director Michella Huff that he would ensure she lost her job if she refused his demand to access the county’s vote tabulators, the North Carolina State Board of Elections said in written responses to questions from Reuters. Senter was “aggressive, threatening, and hostile,” in two meetings with Huff, the state elections board said, citing witness accounts.

Senter did not respond to requests for comment.

Huff, who refused Senter’s demands, was disturbed by the incident of political intimidation. Such threats have become common nationwide since the 2020 election. Reuters has documented more than 900 threatening or hostile messages aimed at election officials in a series of investigative reports.

“It’s a shame, that it is being normalized,” Huff told Reuters. “I didn’t expect to get it here in our county. We are just trying to do our job by the law.” Senter’s demands are a potential violation of state law. In a legal memo responding to community calls for a “forensic audit” of voting machines, Mark Payne, an attorney retained by the Surry County Board of Elections, wrote this week that it was illegal to provide access to voting machines to unauthorized individuals. Anyone threatens or intimidates an election officer could also face felony charges, according to a state statute.

Senter and a prominent pro-Trump election conspiracist, Douglas Frank, met with Huff on March 28, claiming “there was a ‘chip’ in the voting machines that pinged a cellular phone tower on Nov. 3, 2020, and somehow influenced election results,” the state election board said, calling the claim “fabricated disinformation.” Separately, in a public gathering that Huff did not attend, Senter threatened to have Huff’s pay cut, according to Huff, who said a person at the meeting told her about the threat.

Two days before meeting with Huff, Frank gave a speech in Dobson, a town in the rural county of 72,000 people on the northern border with Virginia, where he spoke about “debunked conspiracy theories about the 2020 election,” the board said.

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