The Democratic Party has been ordered to pay the North Carolina Green Party’s legal fees due to ‘frivolous’ and ‘unreasonable’ intervention in the third party’s battle for ballot access in 2022. 

US District Judge James Dever III, a George W. Bush-appointed judge, ordered the NC Democratic Party and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee to pay $6,525 for attorney fees assumed by the Green Party of North Carolina. The Green Party originally requested $59,268.75 in legal fees from the intervenors.

The battle for ballot access began when the Green Party was not officially recognized as a political party in 2022 despite collecting all the signatures required to qualify. The Green Party filed a lawsuit against the NC Board of Elections in 2022 over their exclusion from the midterm ballots. Green Party candidates, including US Senate candidate Matthew Hoh, were denied ballot access when the board failed to recognize them as a political party. 

The Green Party had more than 2,000 signatures over what the required threshold, but the Democrats on the state board asserted there was potential fraud present. Days after the suit was filed, both the NC Democratic Party and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee intervened as defendants. Democrats allegedly contacted Green Party supporters asking them to remove their signatures, audio revealed.

The two Democratic groups then filed an emergency motion to block the Green Party from appearing on the North Carolina general election ballot upon the state board certifying the Green Party months later. Because the filing deadline had passed, Judge Dever ruled that the filing deadline would not apply to two Green Party candidates, granting them ballot access. 

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The Green Party argues that the Democrats’ “actions were frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation,” enabling them to seek attorney fees.

“This is a huge victory that was never about money,” said Oliver Hall, the Green Party’s lawyer. “It was about holding the Democrats accountable for their improper and unfounded efforts to suppress North Carolina voters’ choice.” 

In a press release, the NC Green Party said they knew all along that the NC Board of Elections did not have a case in refusing the party access to the ballot. They spotlighted the strong political pressure from the NC Democratic Party and the DSCC.

“The North Carolina Green Party is pleased with the district court’s decision regarding the frivolous action of the intervenors in the 2022 legal decision pitting the state Green Party against the state board of elections. However, this is not an isolated incident,” commented Green Party Gubernatorial Candidate Wayne Turner. “The Democratic Party has long put its thumb on the scale of electoral participation by other parties. On a broader scale, the lawsuit is a symptom of the dysfunctional and antiquated state of electoral law in the US. While our broken electoral system remains unaddressed, further clashes between Democrats and Greens is inevitable here and across the US.”

The NC Democratic Party didn’t respond to requests for comment. The North Carolina Libertarian Party, the state’s largest third party with approximately 50,000 registered voters, applauded this week’s ruling and called it a ‘resounding legal defeat.’

“With protectionist ballot-access policies, gerrymandering, and aggressive campaigns against third parties among the myriad ways the two big parties have fought against democracy for decades, the uniparty consistently shows its stripes when it comes to true accountability to the people through the ballot box,” said Ryan Brown, chair of the North Carolina Libertarian Party. “We are hopeful, though not optimistic, that this very public reprimand will give the Democrats, and even the Republicans, pause to consider what their principles are, and how far they have betrayed them in pursuit of power. While we are loathe to require state intervention to solve problems, we commend the ruling, which gives the Green Party, who were wronged by the Democrats’ frivolous and authoritarian lawsuit, some measure of restitution.”

Ballot protection is not limited to the Green Party’s struggles, either. North Carolina Democrats worked to keep Dean Phillips, a Democrat who attempted to challenge Joe Biden, off the March primary ballot in North Carolina. Democratic leaders in North Carolina are in charge of submitting a list of candidates to the state board ahead of the primary, but the only name submitted was Biden.

“The Democratic Party of Florida decided we do not need a presidential primary. They gave all the delegates right to Joe Biden without an election, in America,” Phillips previously said in a campaign video. “And then North Carolina decided the same thing — not following their bylaws, by the way — unilaterally deciding they will only submit one name to have on the ballot.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include comments from the NC Green Party.