Dan Bishop said the 2020 election was stolen. Now he wants to be NC's attorney general

Published May 9, 2024

By Kelan Lyons

images of Dan Bishop and Jeff Jackson appear next to the N.C. Department of Justice Building

After the 2020 election, U.S. Rep. Dan Bishop of North Carolina became an outspoken proponent of the lie that Democrats had rigged the results. He accused the rival party of running a national campaign to tie up the courts and disrupt the election’s administration, announcing that he would contest Electoral College votes in four states that were key to Joe Biden’s victory.

“The Democrats’ objectives were to weaken ballot security, undermine positive identification of voters, and provide opportunities for post-election ballot-box stuffing,” Bishop said at the time. “This has been a national, partisan attack on the Constitutional delegation of authority to regulate elections specifically to state legislatures.”

Bishop has expressed skepticism about the outcome of elections in other states but not the ultimate results in North Carolina, which Donald Trump won in 2016 and 2020. But just before Election Day 2020, Bishop criticized North Carolina’s governor, attorney general and “national Democrat operatives” for what he saw as partisan attacks on the integrity of the election.

Now, Bishop is running for state attorney general, an office that would give him immense power in safeguarding North Carolina’s “election integrity” — and in determining its future on voting rights.

Prof. Irving Joyner
Prof. Irv Joyner (Photo: NCCU)


“There will be continuing efforts to challenge the right of people to vote, the requirement that they use voter ID, the counting and security of the ballots when cast, and how that is to be handled at the state level,” said Irving Joyner, a law professor at North Carolina Central University’s School of Law. “Who is elected as the attorney general in 2024 will determine what positions the Attorney General’s Office and the state of North Carolina will take with respect to those challenges, and how those challenges will be handled in court.”

That means an elected official who tried to overturn the results of an election four years prior could run an office originally intended to expand North Carolinians’ access to the ballot.

“We’re in a little bit of uncharted water here,” said Christopher Cooper, a professor of political science at Western Carolina University. “We’re talking about electing somebody to an office that would enforce voting rights laws, who doesn’t believe that the election was free and fair, when it clearly was.”

‘A crucial role in protecting voting rights’

A century and a half before Bishop voted against certifying the 2020 election, North Carolinians adopted a new state constitution as a condition of rejoining the union after the South had lost the Civil War. Among the provisions was a requirement that North Carolina’s attorney general win election in a statewide race, an effort to make the state’s top lawyer more responsive to the needs of the electorate — one that had changed virtually overnight, when thousands of newly freed, formerly enslaved men gained the right to vote.

Robyn Sanders
Robyn Sanders (Photo: Brennan Center for Justice)


That 1868 Reconstruction Constitution also expanded the attorney general’s role in protecting voting rights, allowing them to prosecute violations of elections laws, said Robyn Sanders, counsel with the Democracy Program’s Voting Rights and Elections Team at the Brennan Center for Justice.

“Those changes were made with the aim of protecting the voting rights of those who were newly enfranchised, so African Americans formerly enslaved,” Sanders said. “This was a significant step to ensure that the voting rights of all citizens, especially those who had recently gained the right to vote would be protected and upheld.”

Poll taxes and literacy tests were used to suppress the voting rights of Black people for decades after the end of Reconstruction, but the attorney general’s powers to protect voting rights are still intact today. North Carolina’s attorney general can take action against attempts to suppress the vote and intimidate voters, Sanders said. They can investigate and prosecute voter fraud, file lawsuits to challenge restrictive voting laws that disproportionately impact certain groups, and play a role in monitoring elections to make sure they comply with voting rights laws.

“The state AG really does play a crucial role in protecting voting rights,” said Sanders.

By contrast, Sanders said an attorney general more hostile to voting rights could decline to enforce voting rights protections, or propose creating a task force to investigate supposed mass voter fraud.

“Perhaps that particular AG would manipulate information to suggest voter fraud is this rampant problem when all the evidence done by scholars and academics and attorneys have disproven that over and over again,” said Sanders.

The attorney general can also oppose legislative efforts to restrict access to the ballot box, as Attorney General Josh Stein has done.

“I think that’s particularly important, given the history of the country and the state, that the Attorney General sends that signal to all voters, but particularly those who are African American and from other marginalized communities who have historically and contemporarily continue to be disenfranchised, and to face barriers and hurdles to voting,” Sanders said. “I think that can help strengthen democracy and ensure that all citizens are heard.”

Chris Cooper
Prof. Chris Cooper (Photo: wcu.edu)


Standard Republican versus standard Democrat

Bishop’s opponent is a fellow congressman, Democrat Jeff Jackson. To Cooper, the candidates couldn’t be any more different.

“Do you want a standard Republican or a standard Democrat?” Cooper asked. “Both candidates are very much a part of the party brand.”

When it comes to election administration, Cooper said, there is a spectrum. On one end are security measures, things like voter ID — which research shows disproportionately impacts communities of color — and cracking down on voter fraud. On the other are methods of expanding access to the ballot, like extending early voting and broadening rules on voting absentee.

“If you think of the conversation about elections as being this tension between security and access, you can imagine it being all the way towards the security side with Bishop and, of course, Jackson much more to the access side,” said Cooper. 

The first bill Jackson filed when he was in the General Assembly would have ended gerrymandering in North Carolina by creating an independent redistricting commission. It didn’t pass.

“It’s not like he would want elections to be unsecure or something like that, but he’s much more likely to advocate for issues about voter access or issues about what he would call ‘fair representation,'” Cooper said.

Bishop, meanwhile, is unlikely to challenge the General Assembly if the Republican supermajority passes more laws to restrict access to the voting booth.

“I cannot imagine Dan Bishop trying to defend the length of early voting or trying to stop the legislature’s authority in any way,” Cooper said.

North Carolina’s attorney general may not create voting laws, but they can devote their office’s resources to supporting voting rights and opposing voter suppression tactics and unrepresentative gerrymandered maps, said Bob Phillips, the executive director of Common Cause North Carolina.

“My fear is working hand in hand with a legislature that may also not be friendly to voting rights, that could be a real disaster for our state,” said Phillips.