RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Members of the Green Party denied on Friday that there was “organized fraud” in their effort to get on the November ballot as state election officials say a criminal investigation is underway. 

The party filed a lawsuit this week after the NC State Board of Elections in a divided vote decided against allowing the party’s candidates on the ballot while the investigation continues. 

“This idea that somehow we were engaged in widespread or systemic or organized fraud is not true. It’s nonsense,” said Matthew Hoh, the Green Party’s candidate for U.S. Senate, during a press conference outside the state elections office. “We have been unconstitutionally denied our place on the ballot.” 

Green Party members who signed petitions saying that they want the party on the ballot said in recent weeks they’ve had people who identify themselves as Democrats texting, calling or showing up at their homes asking them to remove themselves from the petition. 

Ahmed Salim said his wife got a call from someone who said they were with Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.  

He recalled, “They said, do you know what your petition does, it’s gonna make the Republicans win. We can’t have that. Are you sure you want to do that?” 

K. Ryan Parker said he had a woman who said she was with the state Democratic Party show up at his house. 

He said, “She said this a couple of times that you realize this hurts Democrats and helps Republicans?” 

The party outlined similar encounters in a federal lawsuit they filed this week against the State Board of Elections.  

CBS 17 has reached out to the DSCC and the state Democratic Party but has not heard back. 

When the matter was before the state Board of Elections last month, the board voted 3-2 against certifying the Green Party. The board’s Democratic members were against while the two Republican members were in favor.  

Karen Brinson Bell, executive director of the State Board of Elections, said Thursday a criminal investigation is underway regarding suspected instances of fraud in the Green Party’s signature gathering process. 

“This level of signature gathering and finding fraudulent activity raises suspicion. There is a cloud over this process,” she said. “This is a criminal investigation. We do have identified fraud.” 

She said 38 people contacted one county election office saying they did not sign the Green Party’s petition in which their name appears. 

The Green Party submitted 22,530 signatures. Of those, the state board says counties have validated 15,875 of them. That’s 2,011 more than required.  

The state Green Party hired two out-of-state firms to help them with gathering signatures. Karen Brinson Bell said one of those firms, based in Arkansas, has been uncooperative after the board issued a subpoena. When CBS 17 contacted Evans Political Consulting, they declined to comment. 

Matthew Hoh, the Green Party’s Senate candidate, acknowledged that the party paid to gather signatures after realizing how challenging the process would be just relying on volunteers. 

He said, “It requires money. It’s one of the ways that it keeps people out of the system because if you don’t have that money, how are you then going to be able to run a campaign to collect all these signatures?” 

Even with the signatures that are in question, Hoh said he’s confident the party got enough valid ones to qualify. 

NC State political expert Andy Taylor said while U.S. Senate candidates Ted Budd (R) and Cheri Beasley (D) are certain to receive the vast majority of votes, the Green Party could play a role in the outcome if the party is indeed on the ballot given how close races in North Carolina can be. 

“With (Hoh) on the ballot under the Green Party label, that could make a difference,” Taylor said. “Clearly there are strategic reasons why Democrats are working to stop this from happening.” 

A hearing has not been scheduled yet after the Green Party filed its lawsuit. The Board of Elections says in mid-August ballots will start being printed to send to voters.  

“(Democrats have) seen an opportunity with this question mark as to the legitimacy of some of these signatures to sort of ram home some sort of political advantage they think they will have,” said Taylor. “It makes sense that they would be really, really working hard to keep the Green Party off the ballot.”