I’m willing to bet that most of our Qcity readers have never heard of the “Alamance 12” – a dozen people just up the road in Alamance County who were charged with felony crimes for voting illegally in the 2016 presidential election.
I, too, was unaware, until I read their stories last week on the New York Times website.
All 12 voted while on probation or parole – a legal no-no in the Tar Heel State. At least three have pled to lesser misdemeanors that come with probation and community service. And if convicted, the remaining defendants face up to two years in prison.
Nine of the 12 are black.
There is little doubt that the Alamance 12 did vote illegally, but those who spoke with Times reporter Jack Healy all said they had no idea they were breaking the law. Tough luck. In North Carolina, intent does not matter — voting rights are suspended until a person convicted of a felony has finished every step of his/her sentence, including probation. (Earlier this year, lawmakers tried to pass a bill that would have allowed prosecutors to consider intent, but the bill died.)
The Alamance 12 were charged after a North Carolina elections audit found that 441 felons had voted improperly in 2016. While most local prosecutors chose to ignore the audit results, which found no evidence of widespread voter fraud, Alamance County District Attorney Pat Nadolski decided to press charges against those in his jurisdiction.
“We want to maintain the integrity of the voting system,” Nadolski, a Republican, told the Times.
So far, Nadolski has resisted calls from local black leaders and civil rights groups to drop the prosecutions.
So, who are the Alamance 12?
One defendant, 28-year-old Taranta Holman, told the Times that said he had never voted before 2016.
Up until then, the Times reported, Holman has spent years “bouncing between low-paying jobs, criminal charges and probation, and he saw little incentive to vote for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.”
But at the urging of his mother, Holman decided to cast his very first ballot. Then, 13 months later, family members informed him of a warrant for his arrest.
“I thought they were playing with me,” Holman was quoted as saying.
Likewise, Whitney Brown, 32, said no one told her she had temporarily lost her right to vote after she pleaded guilty to a 2014 charge of writing bad checks. Her sentence did not include prison time. So when her mother suggested they go to a polling place together and vote for president, Brown told the Times, she went without hesitation.
Months later, a letter arrived from state election officials informing Brown that she had voted illegally. “My heart dropped,” she told the Times.
If the cases go to trial, the hearings will play out against a backdrop in which Republicans nationwide have used false claims of widespread voter fraud to place new restrictions on voters’ access to the ballot box. Critics say these laws – such as I.D. requirements – can me especially injurious to black, low-income and younger voters. In some states, lawmakers have reduced the number of early voting days and restricted same-day voting for new registrants.
While instances of voting fraud are rare when compared with the tens of millions of votes cast each election season, in 2017, at least 11 people nationwide were convicted of illegal voting because they were felons or noncitizens, the Times reported, citing a database of voting prosecutions compiled by the conservative Heritage Foundation. Others have been convicted of voting twice, filing false registrations or casting a ballot for a family member.
North Carolina law is clear about felons who vote.
If you are convicted of a felony in North Carolina, you temporarily lose your citizenship rights, including your right to vote. Any prior registration you had before your felony conviction is automatically cancelled by the county board of elections. Any attempt to register to vote while you are an active felon is a felony.
After you have completed all parts of your sentence (including parole, probation, and restitution) for a felony conviction or you have been pardoned, you are eligible to vote in North Carolina. All you must do then is resister.
To avoid potential problems with registering or voting, you should ask for your Certificate of Restoration of Forfeited Rights of Citizenship from your releasing officer (N.C. Gen. Stat. 13-2). This safeguard step is not required by law.)
A sad footnote
As for Holman, he told the Times he plans to fight the charges. He said he can’t afford the fees that come with a probation sentence and did not want to stay under the scrutiny of the legal system.
But win or lose in court, he said he will never cast another ballot.
“Even when I get this cleared up, I still won’t vote,” he said. “That’s too much of a risk.”