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NC Elections Board certifies Green Party; Democrats to sue

Matthew Hoh is running for a U.S. Senate seat representing North Carolina as a Green Party candidate.
Matthew Hoh for Senate Official Campaign Website
Matthew Hoh is running for a U.S. Senate seat representing North Carolina as a Green Party candidate. On Monday, the North Carolina Democratic Party said it will sue in state court to block certification of the North Carolina Green Party.

Just a few weeks ago, the North Carolina Green Party saw its hopes dashed. A majority of the five-member, bipartisan state elections board had denied the far-left organization access to this year's ballot.

But today the board reversed that decision in a unanimous vote, which could prove critical in North Carolina's tight, closely watched U.S. Senate race. In response, the North Carolina Democratic Party said late Monday afternoon that it will sue in state court to block certification as an investigation continues into allegations of fraud in the Green Party's petition campaign.

Green Party candidates failed to garner at least 2% of the vote for either president or governor in 2020 and under state law, the party lost its official status.

The party needed to collect 13,865 valid signatures from registered North Carolina voters to regain recognition by petition. By statute, the petitions must include 200 signatures each from voters in three of the state's 14 Congressional districts.

The Greens exceeded that number by more than 1,607 even after several hundred fraudulent signatures were removed from the petitions, according to Katelyn Love, the state board's general counsel.

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
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.

Fraudulent Signatures Linked To Contractors

In June, the board's Democrats outvoted the Republicans 3-2 to deny certification and to allow staff to investigate allegations of fraud in the Green Party signature campaign.

At yesterday's meeting, Love told the board the investigation turned up some voters who gave sworn statements that they never signed the Green Party petitions and others who said they were misled about what they were signing.

The state board's investigation seems to have focused on two contractors hired by the Green Party to help collect signatures for their petitions, Evans Political Consulting, of Arkansas, and First Choice Contracting, of Michigan. But the contractors only collected a small portion of the overall number of signatures submitted by the Green Party.

Board Chairman Damon Circosta complained at Monday's meeting that the contractors did not cooperate with the investigation, contributing to the delay in certification.

Green Party Counsel Says Certification Should Have Come Sooner

Attorney Oliver Hall, counsel with the Washington, D.C., nonprofit Center for Competitive Democracy and lawyer for the North Carolina Green Party in litigation against the state elections board, said Monday's reversal was the right decision. But Hall added ruefully that it should have come back in June when the Green Party initially sought certification.

"Instead, the state board of elections announced [the Green Party] was being investigated for fraud," Hall said, in a telephone interview. "That obviously has severe consequences for a party and its candidates who are attempting to qualify for the ballot and should have been on the ballot but are, instead, laboring under the cloud of these false and defamatory allegations that harm their First Amendment rights and harm their prospects as candidates for public office."

Since the July 1 deadline for submitting new political party nominees has passed, the Green Party will need a court order to get its candidates onto this year's North Carolina ballot. A hearing in federal court is scheduled for August 8, where the Green Party sued the state elections board over its initial decision to deny certification.

Should the judge grant the Greens access to this year's ballot, their chosen candidate, Matthew Hoh, would get to join Democrat Cheri Beasley, Republican Ted Budd, and Libertarian Shannon Bray in the race for U.S. Senate.

North Carolina's U.S. Senate Race Will Be Decided 'At The Margins'

"None of us expect the Green Party candidate to win this election but that's not the goal for them," said Prof. Chris Cooper, political scientist and director of the Public Policy Institute at Western Carolina University.

Cooper added: "The goal for them is ballot access, the goal for them is driving the conversation, the goal for them is building a party for the future."

According to Cooper, conventional wisdom says Green Party candidates tend to draw votes away from Democrats and that could make a difference come November, especially in the U.S. Senate race, ostensibly a showdown between Cheri Beasley, a former State Supreme Court chief justice who could become North Carolina's first Black senator, and Congressman Ted Budd, who is endorsed by Donald Trump.

"The polling has been pretty consistent here," Cooper said. "This is not a race that either candidate is going to run away with, this is a race that will be decided at the margins."

That may explain why the Democratic establishment has demonstrated a keen interest in the Green Party's petition efforts. Lawyers with the Elias Law Group, a powerful Washington, D.C., based firm aligned with the Democratic Party, have been tracking the Green Party's campaign.

In a statement issued after the state elections board's vote on certification, North Carolina Democratic Party's Executive Director Meredith Cuomo said the NCDP will sue in state court to "protect the integrity of the North Carolina political process."

Cuomo said that given that the state elections board has found evidence of fraud and continues to investigate, the NCDP is "pursuing legal action to ensure North Carolina voters have not been deceived."

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