David Larson: How North Carolina pushes out third parties

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 13, 2024

By David Larson

A report this week by Kyle Ingram of the Raleigh News & Observer revealed that an ugly tactic — that of a major party trying to bully third-party candidates off the ballot to improve their own chances — has returned in North Carolina.

In 2022, the Democratic Party really, really wanted its candidate, former state Supreme Court Justice Cheri Beasley, to defeat Republican (and ultimate victor) Ted Budd in the U.S. Senate race. They made the calculation that this could not be done with Green Party candidate Matthew Hoh appearing alongside Beasley as an option for left-wing voters. So, they decided to go all out trying to get Hoh, whose Green Party successfully secured enough signatures, disqualified.

To do this, Democrats would have to get many signatures that had been verified by their local boards of elections to be thrown out and would have to get legitimate signers to change their mind and ask for their names to be taken off the Green Party petition, a process which is not laid out in law. They went to great lengths — calling petition signers over and over, mailing them forms, and visiting them at their houses. If the signers said they intended to sign and were not going to change their minds, in many cases, Democrat Party operatives would allegedly just call them right back to intimidate and annoy them into changing their minds.

Carolina Journal was at the forefront of breaking the news and reporting on these tactics. Below is an exclusive video we obtained from a Green Party official showing one of these operatives trying to get him to change his vote, and going so far as to claim he worked, not for the Democratic Party, but for the Green Party.

When this didn’t work, the North Carolina Democratic Party and the national Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, along with party super-lawyer Marc Elias, then spent many months in court trying to find legal justification for why Hoh should not be on the ballot.

Ultimately, they failed, and Hoh did appear next to Budd and Beasley. Of note, though, there was also a Libertarian on the ballot, Shannon Bray, and Bray obtained almost double Hoh’s total, presumably pulling from right-of-center voters, but without much complaint from Budd. So much for Hoh being a third-party spoiler.

Also, Hoh’s total of 0.8%, if added to Beasley’s percentage, which you can see below in the Ballotpedia graphic, would have only brought her to about 48.1%, still 2.4% under Budd’s 50.5%.

The Democrats not only lost at the N.C. State Board of Elections and in court, but it was also a very negative and persisting news topic for them. They do not seem to have learned any lessons from it though, and in 2024, it appears they are poised to repeat the strategy.

As Ingram said in the N&O, those who signed petitions for third-party presidential candidates Robert F. Kennedy Jr and Cornel West are now receiving text messages from a Democrat Party-aligned organization called Clear Choice.

“I’m pretty sure everything that they’re doing here is to get us kicked off the ballot,” Italo Medelius, co-chair of Cornel West’s North Carolina campaign, told Ingram.

Hoh is also quoted, since he has more experience than anyone with these tactics, and said, “I’m annoyed, but I’m not surprised… The Democratic Party is going to be really focusing and putting a lot of effort into trying to keep third party and independent candidates off the ballot.”

We’ll be keeping an eye on this as it develops to see if Clear Choice and its Democrat Party allies ramp up their efforts to the levels seen in 2022. Ingram linked to a Washington Post article that tracked Clear Choice (which has a PAC and an Action arm) directly back to Biden and Democratic Party staffers. The seed money also came from major Democrat donors Reid Hoffman, a billionaire who founded social media network LinkedIn; and Ron Conway, another billionaire who made his money as a “super angel investor” in Silicon Valley, providing early funding to companies like Google, Facebook, Airbnb and Reddit.

These are the kinds of billionaire donors who Democrats can rely on for big checks for random projects around the country. Forbes Magazine reported, for example, that when Biden needed cash to fund a write-in campaign in New Hampshire, where he was unable to get on the ballot in the primary, Hoffman gladly gave the effort $2 million. The seed money for Clear Choice is a minor line-item in his political-donations budget.

All is fair in politics and war, as long as it’s legal. But sometimes legal tactics create a visceral reaction and earn bad press, or even a new law. It’ll be interesting to see if legislators continue to allow this particular tactic.

Calling those who signed a petition for a rival party and convincing them (often harassing them) to “unsign” it seems like day-after sour grapes. Should we allow the losing candidates to call those who voted for their opponent and try to convince them to switch their votes after the fact?

Also, even though one is signing their real name, there is a level of anonymity that one expects in these circumstances. The person is signing to support someone (maybe even someone they don’t plan to vote for) being on the ballot. That’s all. They are not volunteering to place themselves in the middle of a lawsuit or to have the personal information they provided given over to political operatives who then call them day and night.

If the person signed, that should be the end of the story. And if there are any questions on whether they did in fact sign, the state board of elections should be the one to inquire, since they are a disinterested party. But while the tactic remains legal, third parties, and those who sign their petitions, can expect to be harassed in this manner by those who believe that having more options on the ballot threatens the viability of their own candidate. Ironically, many of these same people can often be heard shouting about “threats to democracy.”

David Larson is opinion editor of Carolina Journal.