Federal judge rejects Democrats’ request, questions their role in Greens’ ballot battle
Democratic groups attempting to block the N.C. Green Party from the state’s election ballot “do not appear in this court with clean hands.” That’s the assessment of U.S. District Judge James Dever.
He issued an order Wednesday denying Democrats’ request that he block — or stay — his own Aug. 5 ruling placing Green Party candidates on the general election ballot. The 4th U.S. Court of Appeals is considering a similar request now.
Dever allowed the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and N.C. Democratic Party to intervene in the Green Party’s federal lawsuit for ballot access. But the court record “flatly contradicts” Democrats’ claims in the case, the judge wrote.
State election officials cite a Friday deadline for determining which candidates can appear on the ballot. That deadline is tied to a Sept. 9 deadline for distributing absentee ballots.
“Intervenors are not harmed by approval of two candidates close to the ballot printing deadline and have no interest in the July 1 deadline beyond a ‘generalized public interest in the proper application and enforcement of North Carolina’s election laws,’” Dever wrote. “Moreover, it is plain for anyone who looks to see that the intervenors simply do not want to give voters the option to vote for the two Green Party candidates because the intervenors fear that some voters will vote for the two Green Party candidates instead of the Democratic candidates.”
Dever agreed with the Green Party’s request for relief from a state law setting a July 1 candidate filing deadline. Greens had submitted more than enough petition signatures by May 17 to meet legal requirements for securing ballot access. But the N.C. State Board of Elections waited until Aug. 1 to certify Greens as a political party.
Much of the delay stemmed from a state board investigation of the signatures. Dever’s order noted the role Democrats played in causing the delay.
“lntervenors’ allegation that enjoining the July 1 deadline harms them is especially weak in light of intervenors’ own role in the delay,” Dever wrote. “This court has accepted the Board’s certification result and has, at this stage, accepted the Board’s investigation into the allegedly fraudulent signatures as a legitimate exercise of its statutory authority.”
“However, it does not escape this court’s notice that the intervenors instigated a significant amount of the delay,” Dever added. “The intervenors ‘conducted their own investigation into problems with the [Green Party’s] petitions.’ Before the Board held its June 30, 2022 meeting, where it first considered the sufficiency of the Green Party’s petitions, the intervenors submitted letters and attached declarations to the Board describing the intervenors’ concerns about fraud in the Green Party’s petitions.”
“[P]laintiffs allege that intervenors and their associates attempted to get petition signatories to withdraw their signatures and, in some cases, impersonated Board or Green Party personnel in the course of those efforts,” Dever wrote. “Jntervenors allege that the Green Party’s inability to meet the July 1 deadline was self-imposed, but intervenors themselves clearly played a critical role in that delay and do not appear in this court with clean hands.”
“As for the public interest, the ability of ‘like-minded voters to gather in pursuit of common political ends’ enlarges ‘’the opportunities of all voters to express their own political preferences,’” Dever wrote. “In light of the Board’s August 1 certification of the Green Party, the public interest weights strongly in favor of including the Green Party candidates on the ballot and against a stay.”
Without a stay from Dever, the Democratic groups would need help from the Appeals Court to keep the Green Party off the ballot. The state elections board has urged 4th Circuit judges to resolve the dispute by Friday.