RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — After rejecting a request from North Carolina’s Green Party to be on the ballot this November, the state Board of Elections has been dealt a lawsuit claiming the move was unconstitutional.

In the lawsuit filed on July 14, the Green Party said that it complied with all state law requirements to qualify as a “new political party” and have its candidates placed on the North Carolina general election ballot for this year’s November 8 election.

The North Carolina State Board of Elections declined to certify the Green Party in a divided 3-2 vote. This action, the Green Party said, was made with “no legal authority.”

The lawsuit further claims Democratic party operatives interfered with the Green Party’s petition drive and that the board’s failure to certify the Green Party “injures the constitutional rights” of thousands of voters who signed the petition.

“I think it’s been an experience of bad faith that ties into the overtly partisan nature of this whole process,” said Matthew Hoh, the Green Party’s candidate for U.S. Senate. “It’s that partisanship and the bad faith that makes you feel that we are being targeted and kept off the ballot to aid the Democratic Party.” 

During a meeting Thursday, Karen Brinson Bell, the executive director of the NC State Board of Elections, said the agency has found numerous fake signatures and that there is “a cloud over this entire process.”  

“This is a criminal investigation. We do have identified fraud,” she said. 

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 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.  

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.

Karen Brinson Bell added that the agency has received three affidavits from people who said they did not sign the Green Party’s petition.  

When board member Tommy Tucker, a Republican, asked if those affidavits came from the Elias Law Group, which works with Democrats, election officials said yes.

In the lawsuit, some people who signed the Green Party’s petition said they’ve had people text them, call them or show up at their homes asking them to remove themselves from the petition. Some have identified themselves as Democrats and said having the Green Party on the ballot could pull votes from Democrats in November. 

Others claimed they were with the Secretary of State’s Office while some said they were with the Green Party.

“Our effort here was almost entirely grassroots. We did utilize these two contracting firms. One was a complete bust. One was somewhat successful in terms of the number they collected in order to help us get the number of signatures we needed to surpass the threshold. But, 95 percent of our effort was done by our people,” said Hoh. “If we were a conservative movement, the Republicans would be acting the same way toward us. So, this goes to the partisan nature of the whole two-party system.” 

CBS 17 has reached out for comment to: the Elias Law Group, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the NC Democratic Party and Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Cheri Beasley’s campaign about the lawsuit. 

The state has a July 1 filing deadline to appear on the ballot. 

The NC Green Party is asking a federal judge to block the state from enforcing that and to direct the board of elections to certify the party and put its candidates on the ballot in time for ballots to be prepared in mid-August to go out to voters.  

Damon Circosta, chair of the board of elections, rejected the idea that partisanship led to the decision the board made. 

“I can categorically say that there was no effort by me or anyone on the staff to quote/unquote ‘run out the clock,’” he said. “If they had sufficient signatures by the date, I would personally be supportive of them being on the ballot. I think that’s the right thing to do.” 

Republicans on the board noted that even if the board’s investigation concluded the Green Party had sufficient valid signatures to appear on the ballot, the deadline has passed. That would mean either a court or the General Assembly would have to act. 

Circosta said, “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.”