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NC Green Party sues state elections board over ballot access

A photo from the web site of the Charlotte Area's Chapter of the North Carolina Green Party
Charlotte Area Green Party/ North Carolina Green Party
A photo from the web site of the Charlotte Area's Chapter of the North Carolina Green Party

The far-left Green Party seemed to have everything it needed to attain recognition as an official party in North Carolina and to get on the ballot for this year's mid-term elections. But two weeks ago the Democratic majority on the State Board of Elections voted 3-2 to deny the Greens certification, saying an investigation was needed to look into the legitimacy of the signatures collected for the progressive group's petition.

Now the Greens have filed a lawsuit in federal district court claiming the state board's Democratic majority violated their constitutional rights by denying them a spot on this year's ballot. The organization wants the federal court to overturn the state elections board's decision, certify the Greens as an officially recognized party, and make sure they're included in ballots that will be prepared in August.

One of the named plaintiffs in the lawsuit is Matthew Hoh, the Green Party's chosen candidate to run in the tight, closely watched U.S. Senate race featuring Republican Ted Budd and Democrat Cheri Beasley, along with Libertarian Shannon Bray.

The Senate race is a key battle in this year's midterms, 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. Neither major party wants to risk losing crucial votes to a spoiler group on the fringe.

Did Democrats run out the clock on the Greens?

The Green Party had until July 1 to get certified as an official party through the petition process for this year's ballot.

Under state law, the petition must contain valid signatures from registered North Carolina voters, including at least 200 each from three of the state'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 needed to obtain at least 13,865 signatures.

The party topped that number by more than 2,000. According to the state elections board, 15,876 of the more than 22,000 signatures submitted were validated by county boards.

But at a state board meeting on June 30, where the appointed five-member board was to rule on certification for the Green Party, the Democratic majority voted no due to lingering questions about the legitimacy of some signatures. Because of the July 1 deadline, the Green Party now has run out of time to get on this year's ballot, barring court intervention.

At a board meeting on Thursday, former state Senator Tommy Tucker, one of the state board's two Republicans, alluded to the timing of the majority's June 30 decision to deny certification and continue investigating.

Tucker said he had received a lot of calls asking why the state board had put off a decision on certification until the last minute when elections investigators knew of questionable signatures months ago.

"How do you respond to the fact that the state board has run out the clock on the Green Party to prevent them from being on the ballot?" Tucker asked during State Elections Board Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell's presentation on the ongoing investigation into petition signatures submitted by the Green Party.

"I can categorically say that there was no effort by me or anybody on this staff to, quote, unquote 'run out the clock,' Mr. Tucker," said Board Chairman Damon Circosta, one of the body's three Democrats.

State elections investigation focuses on Arkansas contractor

At Thursday's meeting, Bell told the five appointed members of the board that according to the ongoing investigation, 38 voters from one county whose names had appeared on the Green Party petition denied signing it. Bell also said state investigators reached out to a sample of voters whose signatures appear on the petition and found 28 who said they did not sign it, 15 who did not recall whether they did or not, eight who said they did sign, and four who said they thought they were signing something else.

One of two contractors hired by the Green Party to help collect signatures seems to be of particular interest to state elections investigators. The Green Party paid Evans Political Consulting, of Arkansas, $5,000. The contractor hired three individuals who collected 1,271 signatures and, according to Bell, those same individuals are tied to signatures identified as fraudulent.

Greens face opposition from the Democratic establishment

It seems clear the Democratic Party establishment does not want the Green Party to be certified. The Elias Law Group, a powerful, Washington, D.C.-based Democrat-affiliated firm, has submitted records requests to the North Carolina State Board of Elections seeking all documentation submitted by the Green Party in its petition campaign and has provided state elections investigators with affidavits from three North Carolina voters who claim they did not sign the petition even though their names appear on it.

Additionally, the lawsuit alleges a number of plaintiffs received phone calls that were part of a concerted effort by the Democratic Party and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee to get them to have their names removed from the Green Party petition.

In a news statement released Thursday, the same day the Green Party filed its lawsuit, Elections Director Bell said: “We all recognize how important this decision is, but we cannot provide a clear recommendation to the State Board without enough information to determine whether the party has collected the number of valid signatures required by law."

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.

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