Defrauding the Voters of Mecklenburg

April 10, 2023


  • Tricia Cotham absolutely lied to the voters of Mecklenburg county
  • Her campaign was funded by GOP-aligned corporate PACs
  • The evidence strongly suggests she was recruited as a Republican “Trojan horse” candidate


Last week, Tricia Cotham, a newly-elected Democratic State House Representative from Mecklenburg county, made a surprise announcement that she was switching parties and becoming a Republican.

All by itself, this news would be remarkable. It has become obvious that Cotham perpetrated a fraud against the voters of Mecklenburg county that is egregious even by the sordid standards of North Carolina politics (more on this later). Compounding that fraud, however, is its staggering consequences for the state: the invalidation of Governor Cooper’s veto power, which was already on tenuous ground. This move unblocks the full realization of a radical far-right legislative agenda that the Governor’s veto has been able to block since the 2018 election.

The evidence now strongly suggests that Cotham’s fraud was part of a deliberate plan by the Republican Party of North Carolina to steal a State House seat through fraud. No longer electable in Mecklenburg county by winning voter support on their own merits, Republicans resorted to backing a Trojan horse candidate in Tricia Cotham. What the precise terms were of the backroom deal Cotham struck with Republican leaders, both before and after the election, we can only speculate.

Yes, Tricia Cotham was a fraud

Did Cotham switch parties to better align with her deeply-held ideological or philosophical outlook? The case for such a switch is, simply put, extremely dubious.

During Cotham’s 5 terms in the NC House between 2007-2016, she amassed an “F” rating from the right-wing Art Pope-John Locke Foundation for her liberal voting record. The extreme-right Christian fundamentalist lobby found her politics “deplorable.” She was, as those same groups noted, a prominent voice against the infamous Amendment One, the short-lived attempt to ban same-sex marriage in North Carolina, as well as an opponent of extending the waiting period for women obtaining an abortion from 24 to 72 hours.

In fact, protecting abortion rights was one of Cotham’s defining issues. She spoke at length about her own abortion story, for which she was even featured in Time magazine:

“It was awful, it was painful, and it was sad. It was, and is, personal,” she said at the time. “This decision was up to me, my husband, my doctor and my God. It was not up to any of you in this chamber, and I didn’t take a survey.”

Cotham accused Republican lawmakers of “wanting to play doctor” and said at the time that the proposed waiting period “sends a message of shame to women who may have endured abortion for reasons you don’t know.”

“Abortion is a deeply personal decision,” Cotham finished. “My womb and my uterus is not up for your political grab. Legislators — you — do not hold shares in my body, so stop trying to manipulate my mind.” (Source: WRAL)

This same Tricia Cotham has now joined a Republican caucus whose deputy whip, Keith Kidwell, has proposed a complete ban on abortion, and Rep. Mark Brody, who last year co-sponsored a bill to legalize the murder of doctors who perform abortions and women who obtain them. In her announcement, Cotham even indicated that she was now open to a sharp restriction in abortion access.

At one time, Cotham was also an impassioned opponent of North Carolina’s infamous “Bathroom Bill,” HB2. In fact, Cotham co-sponsored a bill to repeal HB2, the classic example of radical far-right overreach which famously cost the state $3.76 billion in investment and thousands of jobs. Yet in her party switch announcement, she stood shoulder to shoulder with none other than Dan Bishop, author of HB2 and one of the most notorious bigots in North Carolina since Jesse Helms. Cotham hugged him.

Tricia Cotham campaigned on a mainstream center-left platform which fit the Biden +23 district in which she ran. She advocated a $15 minimum wage, healthcare as a human right (for which she would “stand up to Republican attacks”), support for public schools, voting rights and LGBTQ equality.

She has since deleted her webpage outlining these positions:

On the same day that news broke about Tricia Cotham’s defection, her new Republican colleagues were advancing a bill to restrict voting rights in North Carolina. It is among many such bills that North Carolina Republicans are moving through the legislature in a general crackdown on voting access, such as reining in early voting, same-day registration, and – bizarrely – withdrawing from a multi-state system that maintains voter roll integrity.

In short, the Republican caucus is very publicly and vocally opposed to essentially every major issue that Tricia Cotham once claimed to support.

The operation to recruit Cotham

Tricia Cotham won a 4-way Democratic primary for the newly-drawn House District 112 in Mecklenburg. In an area like Mecklenburg, this is hardly unusual. What was unusual, however, was the magnitude, and the source, of outside funding that materialized to support Tricia Cotham.

Cotham raised a whopping $54,000 for her primary election – an eye-popping amount. Even for the child of a powerful Mecklenburg county commissioner (Pat Cotham, who made a max-out $5,600 contribution to her daughter’s primary), most state-level corporate PACs do not normally get heavily involved in primaries.

Yet for Tricia Cotham, state PACs – most of them strongly Republican-aligned – mobilized, and wound up funding more than two-thirds of her primary:

For comparison, Yolanda Holmes, the second-place finisher in the primary, raised a grand total of $14,600.

Veteran campaign finance observers will understand this to be strong evidence of coordinated action. These PACs - most, but not all, of them healthcare-related - coalesced around a chosen candidate. Chosen by whom? That much is impossible to say, but all of the PACs involved (as seen in Cotham's Q1 and Q2 reporting) are strongly Republican, and generally take their cues from Republican leadership.

We will likely never have "smoking gun" evidence proving Cotham's motivations beyond any doubt. Yet the evidence that does exist is strongly suggestive. We have:

  • Cotham's complete and utter reversal of fundamental campaign policy positions soon after election
  • Her noted failure to ever - even once - show up to House Democratic caucus meetings, according to Carolina Forward's sources
  • Her highly unusual primary campaign finances
  • Her obviously close relationships with Republican lawmakers

Tricia Cotham would not be the first North Carolina Republican candidate to attempt to steal an elected office through fraud. The crooked Charlotte-area Republican pastor Mark Harris was literally busted just a few years ago for engaging in ballot fraud. Cotham merely represents a new tactic and dimension of election fraud - and likely not the last.

Help build progress for North Carolina.
Get in touch
PO Box 452, Carrboro, NC 27510

    Stay updated with us

    Stay Updated

    Receive the latest news from Carolina Forward