RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The North Carolina State Board of Elections rejected the Green Party’s petition for their candidates to appear on November ballots Thursday, citing its ongoing fraud investigation that questions the validity of more than 2,000 signatures that party officials turned in to qualify.
The board denied the North Carolina Green Party bid in a 3-2 party-line vote, with three Democrats voting against certification and two Republicans voting in favor.
The decision will lead the left-leaning Green Party to miss Friday’s deadline to nominate candidates, meaning the Democratic, Republican and Libertarian parties will be the only ones with candidates for races like U.S. Senate, House and the state legislature.
Michael Bitzer, a politics professor at Catawba College in Salisbury, said if the Green Party had received certification, it might have divided progressive voters and paved the way for GOP victories in tight races, including the hotly contested Senate race between Democrat Cheri Beasley and Republican U.S. Rep. Ted Budd.
“The Green Party is the more progressive, more liberal side of North Carolina politics,” Bitzer said this week. “Democrats could see a real concern about the Green Party spoiling efforts for Beasley and perhaps other candidates.”
Green Party representatives earlier this year submitted more than 22,000 signatures to the board. County boards of election validated just under 16,000 of those signatures — seemingly catapulting them over the 13,865-signature threshold set in state law.
But several county boards in May alerted the state board of irregularities, elections board Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell said, and the number of questioned signatures were enough to cast doubt on the outcome. She cited examples on submitted petition lists of similar handwriting, incomplete personal information including partial dates of birth, and duplicate voters.
“We feel like there is a cloud over how many signatures are valid,” Bell said at Thursday’s board meeting. “There’s just a lot of concern around what we’re finding, and the amount of irregularities and possible fraud that have been identified already within the signature pages that we have received.”
The board said the investigation also identified 145 signatories who sought to revoke their signatures, three individuals who claim they did not sign the petition and several signatures from deceased voters.
“What this seems to indicate to us is a submission of signature sheets from when the Green Party had a petition effort prior to 2018,” Bell said.
Katelyn Love, legal counsel to the board, said the investigation could warrant criminal action for those found guilty of signing the name of another individual.
Republican board members Tommy Tucker and Stacy “Four” Eggers pushed the board to vote Thursday, despite Chair Damon Circosta’s recommendation to delay the review and allow more time for the investigation.
Prior to Thursday’s meeting, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee acknowledged contacting signatories on the Green Party’s petition to request they retract their signatures. The DSCC is working to get Beasley and the party’s other Democratic Senate candidates nationwide elected in November.
“We’re reaching out to voters to ensure they have not been deceived,” DSCC spokesperson Amanda Sherman Baity said.
Other outside organizations, including Elias Law Group, an influential Democrat-aligned law firm that serves as the DSCC’s general counsel, submitted letters alerting the board of some discrepancies included in the investigation.
Oliver Hall, a lawyer for the Green Party, accused the board of kowtowing to the Green Party’s political opponents, calling the decision an anti-democratic effort to suppress voter choice.
“The board is selectively relying on evidence submitted by partisan operatives acting for their own political advantage and disregarding the facts in the record as they recognize them,” Hall said in an interview after the meeting.
The campaign of Matthew Hoh, who was considered the Green Party’s U.S. Senate candidate, said in a news release that it “will continue and explore all options for its rightful place on the ballot.”