North Carolina voters have a fifth option to consider when deciding which political party to join. The Constitution Party gained official recognition on Wednesday, with help from residents in the eastern part of the state.
The Constitution Party’s core values align largely with the state Republican Party’s platform. The socially conservative third party is against abortion, same-sex marriage, gun control laws and restrictions on religious liberty.
But for Bridgeton resident Dennis Haggett, there’s a distinction between the two parties. He joined the Constitution Party in 2016 because he feels Republicans have strayed from conservative values, he said.
“We’re going to stick to our core values. The Republican Party’s not doing that. There’s case after case where we have candidates that are voted in by Republicans that don’t support the actual core values of the Republican Party,” Hagget said.
More than 12,000 residents from across the state signed petitions to grant the Constitution Party ballot access. At least 1,500 petitions came from Eastern North Carolina. Haggett says he helped collect many of those signatures.
“We started going to gun shows in Jacksonville, New Bern, Greenville, Kinston and a couple of other places across the state. At the gun shows, we were collecting petitions,”Haggett said.
The response he received at the gun shows was mostly positive, Haggett said. “Most of the people who we talk to are in favor of seeing another party on the ballot. That’s whether they’re Democrats or Republicans or unaffiliated. People are wanting a choice in North Carolina, which we haven’t had in a very long time.”
State lawmakers loosened ballot access rules last year. Before the changes, third parties seeking official recognition had to submit about 90,000 signatures -- two percent of the gubernatorial vote. Now, third parties need roughly 12,000 signatures to get on the ballot.
“What they did was return the law to the way it was before 1983. Before 1983, it was 10,000 signatures to get a new party on the ballot, and then briefly, 5,000. But then they wildly increased the number,” said Richard Winger, editor of Ballot Access News. “Until this bill passed, North Carolina was the hardest state in the country for a person running for president outside the major parties to get on the ballot. So, now that’s not true anymore and it’s helped free up the system for the whole country.”
Winger says adding parties to the ballot gives voters more freedom to choose who represents them.
“Traditionally, we have oodles and oodles of state legislative races with only one candidate on the ballot, and that’s almost an insult to the voters to ask people to turn out and find all these important offices on their ballot and find only one person running,” Winger said. “Four is a good number of candidates in a typical legislative seat that elects one person. I think that gives voters more freedom to express themselves.”
The Constitution Party expects to nominate at least 12 candidates at its state convention in Charlotte on June 16, said Dennis Haggett, party volunteer.
One of those potential nominees is Greg Holt, who’s planning to run again in November for the Craven County Board of Commissioners’ District 1 seat. In May, Holt lost the Republican primary race for that seat to the incumbent Tom Mark.
Like Haggett, Holt says he joined the Constitution Party because he feels its members are more loyal than Republicans are to party values.
“With the Republicans, which I used to be really devoted to, they really kind of stick together in their little cliquey groups instead of doing what’s right, in my opinion,” Holt said.
The North Carolina State Board of Elections granted the Constitution Party ballot access a couple months after the Green Party was added under a different provision in the new state rules. The Green Party gained access because its 2016 presidential candidate Jill Stein was on the ballot in at least 35 states.