Wednesday, July 24, 2024

RFK Jr., Cornel West still not on NC ballot, state BOE investigates petitions to add them

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Cornel West are attempting to get on the NC ballot, but he state board has delayed its vote from adding the candidates from the We the People and Justice for All parties. (Courtesy photos)

NORTH CAROLINA — The state’s voters will see at least one new third-party presidential candidate on the ballot this election season. But a decision still needs to be made about two independent party candidates, who some think also threaten President Joe Biden’s re-election campaign.

READ MORE: NHC Board of Elections hosts voter info sessions this month

At Tuesday afternoon’s North Carolina State Board of Elections’ meeting, three eligible third-party petitions to appear on the ballot for the presidential election were discussed. Only the conservative Constitution Party — endorsing candidate Randall Terry, a Christian activist — gained the board’s approval unanimously after garnering enough signatures to gain ballot access.

The state board previously denied all three parties’ petitions on June 26, though not permanently. The board needed to look into the legitimacy of the Constitution Party’s filing address and whether or not signatures on the We the People and Justice for All petitions were procured ethically.  

The Justice for All party is endorsing progressive and independent candidate Cornel West, a socialist political activist, while the We the People Party is endorsing Robert Kennedy Jr. Nephew of President John F. Kennedy, the environmental lawyer — who has captured headlines for his conspiracy theories — initially was going to run as a Democrat before switching to independent.

North Carolina — considered a battleground state in this year’s election — requires signatures from 0.25% of voters from the previous general election for governor with at least 200 from each congressional district or approval from at least 70% of other states in the preceding presidential election to get on the ballot.

Terry is included on ballots in two states. Right now, Kennedy has nine states and West has three.

Kennedy’s approach to getting on the ballot differs by state. For example, in Hawaii, Mississippi, Oregon and North Carolina, he used the We the People Party — which was started in January — as opposed to getting on the ballot as an individual candidate because it requires less signatures as a party nominee.

While Terry could weed out some conservative votes for Trump, more attention has been on Kennedy and West as major players in left-wing politics, with potential to dilute votes for Democratic nominee Biden. According to The Hill’s election poll, Trump leads Biden by roughly 3 percentage points currently, but just over 7% of pollsters indicate support for Kennedy. At times earlier in the year, Kennedy had as much as 11%.

Conservative groups, including nonprofit organization Fair Election Fund, claim the Democratic-controlled state board of elections is purposely delaying voting on bringing in the competition. In a social media post, the group said the board was working to “block voter rights.”

Republican board member Kevin Lewis expressed frustration with the verification process of third parties, saying the board’s “motives are starting to be questioned” by accusations it is trying to influence the election in North Carolina. He added the investigation was bringing “bad publicity” to the board.

The state board deferred action Tuesday for their decision on Justice for All and We the People parties until more information could be provided regarding an investigation into the methods of gaining signers on the parties’ petitions.

Lewis and Stacy Eggers, also a Republican, were the only board members who voted in favor of approving the parties last month.

“You know how I voted the last time and I hope fellow board members will do the right thing and approve these partners today,” he said Tuesday. 

Allegedly, the two petitions reached the threshold for signatures the board requires to be considered for the ballot by misleading signers. Some of the 13,865 signers then filed affidavits to have their names removed from the petition, not realizing their signatures would put candidates on the ballot. 

The board was shown a video in the June 26 meeting submitted by the Clear Choice Action Democratic super-PAC. It showed Scott Presler, a conservative activist, gathering signatures on a clipboard at a Trump rally in Wilmington.

“This helps take votes away from Joseph Biden,” Presler said in the video.

Nine subpoenas were issued by state board of education staff to various parties involved in the petition-gathering process, to request information about what specifically was communicated to the signers per the petitions’ intent. Though the response deadline for the subpoenas was Tuesday, by the meeting the board had received less than half responses, without proper time allowed to review them all.

NCSBE staff attempted to contact 26 signers of the We the People petition and 66 signers of the Justice for All petition. They were only able to reach nine and 22, respectively, and cited lack of contact information and incorrect phone numbers as the cause of difficulty in retrieving responses.

Board members debated the petition signer information presented by staff. Lewis indicated there were not enough interviews to condemn the petition. Yet, board member Siobhan Millen (D) said the high percentage of interviewed signers that were unclear about its purpose could indicate more people did not realize the petition’s true purpose. 

According to Lindsey Wakely, general counsel to the board, 12 who signed the Justice for All petition said they either did not sign or did not recall signing, though no We the People signers said the same. 

Wakeley also indicated the information provided to signers about the nature of the petition was discussed in interviews, saying signers were not told the purpose and intent of what they were signing.

Both board members Eggers and Lewis pushed for the board to not postpone the vote any longer, expressing frustration with the lack of action Tuesday. 

“We generally do not second guess voters on their decisions and should not do so in this case,” Eggers said. 

The board has not yet set a date for the voting on the We the People and Justice for All parties.

The Constitution Party must submit its candidates by July 23. The NC House select committee on oversight and reform will meet at 9 a.m. to discuss whether the board’s handling of the petitions is in compliance with state statute.  

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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