April 13, 2024

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Law for politics

Green Party consultant, dodging NC investigators, says he didn’t do anything wrong :: WRAL.com

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The Green Party and its North Carolina U.S. Senate candidate on Friday continued to dispute a decision by the state’s Democratic-led elections board to keep the party off the ballot while the elections board investigates potential fraud related to its petition.

Meanwhile, an Arkansas man who was contracted by the party to collect signatures for ballot recognition is refusing to cooperate with state investigators probing the authenticity of signatures that were collected.

Lee Evans, the owner of Little Rock, Ark.-based Evans Political Consulting LLC, told WRAL News in an interview Friday afternoon that he viewed the subpoena he received from the North Carolina State Board of Elections as overreach. He declined to say what information investigators wanted. As of Thursday, state elections officials had also been unsuccessful in their efforts to reach three other people over their purported involvement in submitting what officials have described as “known fraudulent signatures.”

At a news conference outside the State Board of Elections on Friday, Green Party U.S. Senate candidate Matthew Hoh insisted he and his party secured the required number of valid signatures to qualify for a spot on the ballot.

“We met all requirements, we met all deadlines and we were procedurally in order to be certified,” Hoh said. “The process of us not being certified is unconstitutional. It takes away our ability to run candidates, and, more importantly, it takes away the ability of voters to have candidates on the ballot that they want.”

Election Day, polling places

The five-member State Board of Elections, which includes three Democrats and two Republicans, voted along party lines last month to deny the Green Party’s request, citing an ongoing investigation into potentially fraudulent signatures being collected.

The North Carolina Green Party filed a federal lawsuit Thursday asking a judge to reverse the state board’s decision to keep the party off the November ballot.

Paying for signatures

Under state law, the Green Party needed at least 13,865 signatures. To help ensure that mark was easily surpassed, Hoh and the North Carolina Green Party on April 4 each paid $5,000 to Evans’ company, Evans Political Consulting LLC, campaign finance filings show.

In exchange for the $10,000, the Arkansas firm was contracted to provide them with 2,000 petition signatures. But Evans terminated the contract after only securing about 1,200 signatures.

Evans said he ended the contract because the profit margins were slim and he was losing money on the deal. Pleased with the work of Evans’ collectors, Hoh’s campaign decided to pay them as his own employees so that they could continue gathering signatures.

Hoh and the party “brought on their people and paid them per signature, which was in accordance with what the contracting firm had been doing,” Hoh said. “… We took them on in good faith and they performed and got us signatures and we didn’t see anything that would make us think that something was going on here.”

The practice of directly paying petition collectors per signature is legal, but it “does invite the possibility of fraud,” said Pat Gannon, a spokesman for the State Board of Elections.

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After submitting their petition pages to the state, the North Carolina Green Party had more than 15,900 signatures approved by county elections officials across the state. Even excluding those collected by Evans’ firm, Hoh said the party still had more than enough signatures to be placed on the ballot.

But the state Board of Elections questioned 2,653 signatures collected by several individuals. The total, if thrown out, could bring the validated signatures below the threshold needed for the Green Party to be placed on the ballot.

“It was this math that led State Board staff to conclude that they could not recommend a finding of sufficient petition until this was investigated further,” Gannon said. “It was our information, based on our investigations.”

Probe continues

Since launching an investigation into the Green Party’s petition process on May 13, state elections officials say they’ve seen indications of “an organized effort to falsify signatures.” They also identified “38 individuals who contacted a single county board of elections stating they did not sign the petition in which their names were listed.”

The board also said officials discovered the same handwriting throughout many petition signature pages, duplicate voters, partial dates of birth and incomplete or crossed-out voter information.

Green Party officials have suggested that the board has used the investigation to discredit the party’s candidates at a time when the stakes are high. If Hoh is added to the ballot this year, that could sap votes from the Democratic Party’s Senate nominee in what could be a close election. That election may ultimately determine party control of the U.S. Senate. The state Republican Party, meanwhile, has cheered on the Green Party’s efforts to be recognized, writing on Twitter that Democrats are trying to eliminate competition.

“We think the NCSBE’s conduct in publicizing unsubstantiated allegations against the North Carolina Green Party, without giving us any opportunity to defend ourselves, is irresponsible and wrong,” said Michael Trudeau, a spokesman for the NCGP. “This looks less like a legitimate investigation than an attempt to defame NGCP and keep us off the ballot even though we complied with all requirements under state law. In truth, it is the state and several county boards that are noncompliant with state law.”

Evans said he wouldn’t cooperate because he doesn’t believe he’s subject to North Carolina elections laws and said he didn’t do anything improper. Evans also said he didn’t have time to deal with the information requests an NCSBE official sought from him.

Gannon, the spokesman for the state elections board, confirmed Evans received a subpoena and declined to cooperate. He declined to identify the other individuals board investigators are trying to contact.

“We continue to investigate and make further attempts to contact individuals we believe were involved in submitting false signatures,” NCSBE Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell said in a statement on Thursday. “To date, they have not been cooperative. Hopefully, we will be able to make a concrete recommendation to the State Board—based on facts—in the near future.”

In the meantime, the NCSBE has asked county boards of elections that didn’t previously check signatures on Green Party petition pages against signatures on file to do so by July 29.

“This is how petition-checking must be conducted under North Carolina state law,” Bell wrote. “We are adhering to the law to ensure the integrity of elections and the petition process.”

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