Ralph Nader in 2000. Jill Stein in 2016. Many Democrats believe these Green Party candidates cost Democrats the presidency in those years.
In the highly publicized race for the US Senate in North Carolina in November, the Green Party may not have the chance to play spoilers.
That’s because the state Board of Elections, which is controlled by Democrats, has – so far – refused to give the Green Party a spot on the ballot, citing possible fraud in their ballot petition.
It sparked complaints from the Green Party – as well as Republicans – that the council is undermining the Green Party to boost Democratic Senate candidate Cheri Beasley as she takes on Republican candidate Ted Budd.
The Green Party filed a lawsuit Thursday in an attempt to force the state to give it a spot on the ballot.
The electoral commission said it was just doing its job and had to ensure that the signatures needed to gain access to the ballot were legitimate.
In late June, council executive director Karen Brinson Bell told council members there were problems with Green Party signatures.
“There are many pages that show clear signs of fraud or irregularities,” she said. “These include the same handwriting throughout and similar signatures.”
In the 2020 presidential and gubernatorial elections in North Carolina, the Green Party won less than 2% of the vote. This meant that the party needed a petition to be recognized in 2022.
For the petition, the Green Party needed the signatures of 13,865 voters. The party collected more than 22,000 and county election commissions certified nearly 16,000.
But those boards also told the state that there were “irregularities” in the signature sheets.
Brinson Bell said she needs more time to investigate — even if a longer investigation means the Green Party could miss an August deadline for the state to prepare for the ballot.
“When you look at them cumulatively, we feel like there’s a cloud over the number of valid signatures,” she said.
Brinson Bell was nominated by the state’s Democratic governor. The three council Democrats voted June 30 not to certify the Greens’ petition. Both Republicans on the board voted yes.
The Green Party cries foul
Green Party candidate for the US Senate, Matthew Hoh, an Afghan veteran, said nearly all of the signatures were collected by the party’s own volunteers. But he acknowledged they also used a contractor who handed over what he estimated to be around 200 forged signatures.
He said the Green Party was shocked when his petition was rejected.
“And none of this, from what we were told or represented, constituted what would be considered systemic fraud,” Hoh said. “It’s going to happen when you collect signatures. Someone will write Mickey Mouse in there, thinking it’s funny.”
Hoh said the election commission ignored the signatures already verified and decided that “because there was this fraud, these 200 signatures, there could be more.”
The board of elections, on the other hand, said it believed there could be more than 2,000 fraudulent signatures. He says he’s opened a criminal investigation.
Board Chairman Damon Circosta, a Democrat, argued with a Green Party attorney at the June 30 meeting. He said this week that “politics played no part in this council’s decision to wait to decide whether it would certify whether the Green Party could be on the ballot.”
He said the board could reverse its decision by the end of the month if the investigation finds enough signatures are OK.
Phone calls to delete names
But in this dispute over access to the ballot, there was clearly politics at play.
Ahead of the board vote, a former Democratic Party operative in the state sent a letter alleging the Greens misled voters and hid their ideology. The letter included requests from some voters to have their names removed from the petition.
The former agent’s lawyer: the Elias Law Group, which represents the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Hoh, a Green Party Senate candidate, said Democrats were undermining his supporters.
“We started hearing people who signed the petition say, ‘Hey, someone just contacted me asking me to remove my name from the petition,'” Hoh said. “And we said, ‘What?’ ”
He released a recording of a phone call that allegedly took place between Tony Ndege, who is the co-chairman of the Green Party in the state, and someone who tried to get him to remove his name from the petition.
During the call, Ndege asks the person: “Is it the Green Party?”
The caller says “yes”.
He asks again if the caller is with the Green Party, and the caller again says yes.
When asked, Ndege says he signed the petition. The caller then appears to read a script, saying the Green Party will help Republicans.
“Are you interested in requesting that your name be removed from this petition or leave it?” asks the caller.
Ndege says he is “confused”.
“So if you’re with the Green Party, why are you asking me to withdraw?” he asks.
Then the phone call ends. We don’t know who did it.
The Elias Law Group and the North Carolina Democratic Party did not respond to interview requests.
Circosta said the election committee’s investigation had already begun before the letter contesting the signatures.
But the whole episode aroused skepticism.
“There must be something upside for the Democratic Party not having the Green Party on the ballot,” said GOP election board member Tommy Tucker.
The Senate race – for an open seat after Republican Richard Burr said he would not run again – is expected to be close.
And Beasley, the Democratic candidate, knows close races. She lost her bid for re-election to the state Supreme Court two years ago by just 401 votes.