RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Election officials say a fraud investigation involving the North Carolina Green Party should lead to changes in state law, as the party goes to court to try to get its candidates on the ballot for this year’s election. 

The NC State Board of Elections says there’s a criminal investigation underway into the signatures the Green Party gathered to meet the threshold under state law to get on the ballot. The party’s Senate candidate Matthew Hoh said they paid some people to help them in that process, with some of them being paid hourly and some being paid per signature.

Pat Gannon, a spokesman for the state Board of Elections, said the agency will ask the General Assembly to ban the practice of paying per signature.  

“This case has highlighted the need for a change in state law to prohibit signature collectors from being paid by the signature, as this practice incentivizes unscrupulous individuals to generate fake signatures for monetary reward,” he wrote in an email.  

The agency also wants rules to reduce fraudulent petitions, including requiring petition pages to identify who gathered those signatures and how to contact them.  

At a recent meeting, Damon Circosta, chairman of the state board, said, “If I were a member of the General Assembly, I would be certainly taking a look at this whole statutory setup. From how we collect signatures, to the timelines, to the deadlines, to paying individuals per signature, there’s a lot of work that the statutes could be improved upon.” 

(Michael Hyland/CBS 17)

The State Board of Elections says it has identified various incidents of fraud, including people contacting their local election offices to say they did not actually sign a petition on which their names appear.  

To qualify to be on the ballot this year, the Green Party needed to submit at least 13,865 valid signatures.  

Late last month, the Board of Elections in a 3-2 vote, declined to allow the party’s candidates to be on the ballot amid concerns about the number of valid signatures and suspected incidents of fraud. The Democratic members all voted against certification while the Republican members voted in favor of the Green Party. 

In a court filing late last week, the Green Party said the board “has cited no legal authority” for its decision.

Further, the party’s members say there’s been a concerted effort by Democrats to try to keep them off the ballot this year out of concern they’ll pull votes from them, with particular concern about what could be a close race for U.S. Senate.   

Matthew Hoh said the party submitted several thousand more signatures than necessary with the expectation that some signatures would be found to be invalid. In an exhibit that’s part of a lawsuit the party has filed against the NC State Board of Elections, the party notes in a contract it had with one company that it called for “at least a 70% validity rate.”  

“Ninety-five percent of our collection effort, probably more than that, was done by people who were not paid per signature,” said Hoh. “Just the amount of time it takes to collect signatures, you need people out there 10, 20, 30 hours a week.” 

He pushed back on the board’s proposal to change state law. 

“People are paid at every level throughout the political process. And, the amount of money that’s involved in this is astronomical,” he said. “In 2020, the U.S. Senate race was $300 million. All right? So, this idea that somehow the issue is about paying people to stand out in the hot sun for hours at a time several days a week to collect signatures for you, that’s not the issue.” 

The Board of Elections will meet next Monday, Aug. 1, to give an update on the investigation into the fraudulent signatures and to consider complaints filed against election officials in Wake, Durham, Johnston and Guilford counties regarding how they reviewed the petitions the Green Party submitted. 

Following that, U.S. District Court Judge James Dever scheduled a hearing for Aug. 8 to consider the Green Party’s lawsuit. State election officials say they need to begin the process of printing ballots in the middle of August.