RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The North Carolina State Board of Elections unanimously voted Monday to recognize the Green Party as a new political party, reversing its previous decision to reject the party’s petition while the board investigated the signature sheets for fraud.
Katelyn Love, the board’s legal counsel, announced Monday that the North Carolina Green Party has submitted more than enough signatures validated by both the state and county elections boards to earn immediate recognition. But Green Party candidates still face an ongoing legal battle to appear on the November ballot after the state board’s initial rejection of the petition led the party to miss the July 1 deadline to submit its nominees.
Following the Monday morning vote, the North Carolina Democratic Party announced it will file a lawsuit in state court this week to “protect the integrity of the North Carolina political process” as the board continues to investigate some Green Party signature gatherers. The lawsuit had not been filed as of late Monday afternoon.
Democrats have warned that Green Party certification could divide progressive voters and clear a path for Republican victories in key races — particularly the tight U.S. Senate race between Democrat Cheri Beasley and Trump-endorsed Republican Rep. Ted Budd.
“This was never a political decision, but always an important one,” board chair Damon Circosta, a Democrat, said Monday. “I personally did what I said I would do from the start. If there came a time when I believed there were enough valid signatures to recognize the Green Party, I would vote to do so.”
Though the elections board determined it does not have authority to extend the candidate filing deadline, an Aug. 8 federal court hearing in Raleigh could widen the window for a new political party to nominate candidates in North Carolina.
The board’s Democratic majority previously rejected the Green Party petition in a 3-2 vote on June 30, citing petition sheets with nearly identical handwriting, incomplete personal information, duplicate names and deceased signatories.
The Green Party then sued the board on July 14, alleging Democratic interference in the petitioning process and asking the court to reverse the board’s decision. The board filed a response to the lawsuit on Friday, opposing the Green Party’s demand that a judge order the board to include its candidates on the ballot.
The board agreed the court should extend the candidate filing deadline should the party earn official recognition at Monday’s board meeting, the brief states.
Prior to the board’s initial vote, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee acknowledged contacting signers of the Green Party’s petition to request they remove their names.
K. Ryan Parker, a plaintiff in the Green Party lawsuit, called the board’s decision to certify the Green Party “a welcome surprise and a huge win for democracy,” which he believes was prompted by the recent onslaught of media attention and a desire to settle the matter outside federal court.
“It doesn’t change the fact that the Democratic Party attempted to disenfranchise North Carolina voters like me by hiring operatives to call, text and visit voters in their home, attempting to compel them to remove their signatures from the petition,” Parker said in an interview Monday. “And it doesn’t change the fact that this two-party system, this duopoly, has failed us at every turn and continues to force voters into a dilemma every four years of voting for a lesser evil.”
Ballot preparation begins in mid-August, which Love said should give Green Party candidates enough time to appear on the North Carolina ballot alongside Democrats, Republicans and Libertarians if the court rules in their favor.
Circosta said the board also plans to recommend legislative changes aimed at ensuring those who commit fraud in the signature collection process can be easily identified and brought to justice.
Schoenbaum is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow her at twitter.com/H_Schoenbaum.