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NC Green Party rejection sparks claims of unfair undermining by national Democrats

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Karen Brinson Bell, the executive director of the N.C. Board of Elections, said she was concerned about the validity of signatures from the Green Party.
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NC Board of Elections/screenshot

Two years ago, the Green Party didn’t receive 2% in either the North Carolina presidential or governor’s race. That meant it lost a place on the ballot.

To get back on in 2022, the Greens needed 13,865 signatures of registered voters. The party said it collected 22,500 – and that local county elections boards verified 15,953 of them.

But when the North Carolina Board of Elections met last week, executive director Karen Brinson Bell said there were problems.

“There are numerous pages with obvious signs of fraud or irregularities,” she said. “These include the same hand-writing throughout and similar signatures.”

She said the problems with the signatures “might not raise a question but when you look at these cumulatively, we feel like there is a cloud over how many signatures are valid.”

The elections board later voted 3-2 along party lines not to certify the Green Party petition, likely keeping it from the 2022 ballot. The decision could boost Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Cheri Beasley by giving progressive voters fewer choices in November.

But the board’s decision touched off accusations from the Green Party that national Democrats were undermining their efforts. A prominent Democratic law firm – The Elias Law Group – said the Green Party misled voters when getting them to sign their petition.

Mathew Hoh, the Green’s North Carolina U.S. Senate candidate, acknowledged there were small problems with the more than 22,000 signatures submitted. He said 95% were collected by Green Party volunteers.

“But 5% were gathered by contractors,” he said. “And two of those people seemed to have tried to run a scam and submit false signatures. That was around 200 signatures (in question).”

He said leading up to Thursday’s hearing, he said the state hadn’t given the party any indication that there was a larger concern.

“And none of it as far as we were told amounted to systemic fraud that we were up not to no good,” Hoh said. “This is going to happen when you collect signatures. Someone will write Mickey Mouse and think it’s funny.”

He added: “This idea that because there was this fraud, there could be more. And because there could be more, there needs to be more investigation.”

Hoh said he believes the Green Party is the victim of an effort by national Democrats to have their signatures rejected.

The Elias Law Group represented Michael Abucewicz of Raleigh, who has worked as a deputy get-out-the-vote director for the North Carolina Democratic Party.

He and the Elias Law Group sent the Board of Elections a letter stating that people leading the signature drive for the Greens worked to hide the party’s ideology and misled people who signed. North Carolina law says that parties must inform people who sign of the general purpose and intent of their party.

But Hoh it was Democrats who were misleading people.

“About two weeks ago we started hearing from folk who signed the petition saying hey someone just contacted me asking to take my name off the petition,” he said.

Hoh released a recording of a phone call between Tony Ndedge, who is the co-chair of the state’s Green Party, with someone who tried to get them to take their name off the petition. The caller said they were a member of the Green Party.

On the recording, Ndedge asks the caller if he is representing the Green Party. The caller said yes.

The caller then asks if Ndedge signed a petition to have the Green Party on the ballot. He said yes.

The caller then appeared to read from a script, saying “the Green Party’s presence on the ballot will take votes away from Democrats giving Republicans a huge advantage. That will help them win North Carolina in 2022 and 2024. Are you interested in having your name removed from the petition?”

Ndedge then said: “I’m confused. So, if you are with the Green Party, why are you asking me to remove it?”

Then the phone call ended.

Abucewicz and an attorney with the Elias Law Group did not return phone calls or e-mails from WFAE.

Hoh said the Democrats went too far.

“It would be one thing if their argument was we are checking the integrity of the petitions,” he said. “But as soon as you confirm that you signed the petition, then there was a message and on the calls, there was a script how the Green Party helps Republicans.”

Many Democrats blame Green Party candidates Ralph Nader in 2000 and Jill Stein in 2016 for siphoning votes from Democratic presidential candidates. And for Republicans, Libertarian Gary Johnson received 3.3 percent of the vote in 2016—and may have taken votes from Donald Trump.

And there is a Libertarian—Shannon Bray—on this year’s U.S. Senate ballot.

The Board of Elections' three Democratic members voted not to certify the Greens. The two Republicans voted yes.

Board of Elections member Tommy Tucker, a Republican, said national Democrats were undermining North Carolina voters.

“So there must be something advantageous for the Democrat Party not having the green party on the ballot,” Tucker said. “That’s my observation.”

During the meeting last week, an attorney for the Green Party, Oliver Hall, protested the board’s decision.

“Is there any question as to the validity of the 15,953 signatures that have been validated by state and county boards?” he asked.

The board chair, Damon Circosta, a Democrat, responded, saying that he had “questions, sufficient in number, to be not willing to vote for certification today.”

Hall pushed back.

“The presumption ought to be that validated signatures are valid,” he said. “So again the question is: Is there any basis for considering or questioning the validity of any of those 15,000 signatures?”

Hall then raised his voice at Circosta, saying “Mr. Chairman, you have not answered the question.”

Circosta said that Hall was “out of order” and told staff on the virtual meeting to “mute Mr. Hall.”

Elias Law Group's and the Green Party's letters to North Carolina BOE:

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Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.