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With U.S. Senate seat at stake, Democrats warily watching NC Green Party's possible recognition

North Carolina Green Party, Charlotte Chapter
North Carolina Green Party, Charlotte Chapter
At a meeting this Thursday, the State Board of Elections will review North Carolina Green Party's petition for official recognition.

The State Board of Electionswill meet later this week to determine whether to grant the North Carolina Green Party official recognition, a decision that could have significant implications for a closely watched U.S. Senate race.

Certification from the state board would enable registered North Carolina voters to affiliate with the Greens and it would allow Matthew Hoh to add his name to the ballot for this year's U.S. Senate race, a seat opened up by Republican Richard Burr's pending retirement at the end of what is his third term.

Libertarian Shannon Bray and the headline contenders — Democrat Cheri Beasley and Republican Ted Budd — are already on the ballot.

The North Carolina Green Party has officially endorsed Hoh, a Marine Corps veteran who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan. If the party is recognized by the state, Hoh then would have to be formally nominated at a party convention.

Green Party U.S. Senate candidate and Marine Corps veteran Matthew Hoh
Campaign Photo
The North Carolina Green Party has endorsed Marine Corps veteran Matthew Hoh as their Senate candidate. But Hoh would have to be formally nominated at a party convention -- if the Greens are officially recognized as a party.

But the far-left Greens could face a legal challenge from the Democratic Party.

The Elias Law Group, a powerful Democratic Party-affiliated firm, has submitted a records request to the State Board of Elections seeking all documentation submitted by the Green Party in its petition campaign, including all the documentation the Green Party submitted in its petition drive. The firm has not responded to a WUNC request for comment.

Catawba College Political Science Prof. Michael Bitzer said he would not be surprised if the Democratic establishment takes legal action to challenge the Green Party's petition efforts.

"I would say that the party is looking out for its own self-interests," Bitzer said.

Much at stake in U.S. Senate race

The senate race is a key battle in this year's mid-terms, with control of Congress at stake and plenty of outside attention and money pouring into the contest. In Beasley and Budd, it features the first Black woman to serve as chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court running against a hardline conservative GOP congressman endorsed by Donald Trump.

In this year's highly charged partisan atmosphere, Bitzer said the prospect of having a Green Party candidate in this year's senate race calls to mind the 2000 presidential race. That year, Green Party candidate Ralph Nader got more than 97,000 votes in the decisive Florida contest that Democrat Al Gore ultimately lost to Republican George W. Bush by just 537 votes.

"Those votes that go to potential Green Party candidates, or are among Green Party voters, those could make the potential difference if you're talking about close elections, not just at the U.S. Senate race but, potentially, at state legislative races," Bitzer said.

Bitzer said political scientists often refer to alternative parties like the Greens and Libertarians as "spoilers" because of the impact their candidates could have on major party campaigns.

But state Green Party co-chair Tony Ndege rejects that label.

"How can you spoil a system that's already pretty much rotten to the core?" Ndege asked.

The Greens' path to recognition

Ndege describes the Green Party as an "ecological socialist" organization, one that supports a $20-per-hour minimum wage, free education and universal health care.

"We're an antiwar party and these are two major corporate, capitalist parties," he added, referring to Democrats and Republicans.

The Greens were last recognized as a party in North Carolina in 2020. But after Green Party candidates failed to garner at least 2% of the vote for either president or governor that year, the party lost its official status.

This year, they are petitioning to reclaim their recognition by presenting enough valid signatures from registered North Carolina voters.

"We're confident that we're well above the threshold," Ndege said.

According to data maintained by the State Board of Elections, the Greens have collected more than 22,000 raw signatures, more than 15,000 of which have been validated at the county level. But those numbers are preliminary and they must be verified by the state board, too.

Under state law, the valid signatures must come from registered voters, including at least 200 each from three of North Carolina's congressional districts and the number of signatures must equal one-quarter of 1% of the total number of voters who cast votes for Governor in the most recent election. By those criteria, the North Carolina Green Party needs to obtain at least 13,865 signatures.

Mac McCorkle teaches at Duke University's Sanford School of Public Policy and was a longtime Democratic consultant and operative in North Carolina politics.

"There could be some discontent on the progressive side," Mac McCorkle said. "Beasley is portraying herself as more of a moderate candidate than maybe some people like."

But McCorkle added that the senate race is less about the candidates on the ballot and more about Republican Budd's most prominent supporter, former President Trump.

"It's still 'Are you for him or against him?'" McCorkle said with a laugh. "And, so, a lot of people I think will not be wanting to waste their vote."

Rusty Jacobs is WUNC's Voting and Election Integrity Reporter.
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