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North Carolina residents accused of illegally voting in 2016 election file defamation lawsuit

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Four Guilford County voters have filed a defamation lawsuit against the person who accused them of voter fraud in the November election.

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice reports that at least 85 North Carolinian’s were accused of voting in multiple states or of being ineligible to vote because of a felony conviction. None of the accusations were found to be valid.

Unsupported claims by President Donald Trump have moved the issue of illegal voting into the national spotlight but the national rhetoric has been broad and vague, a release from the organization states. North Carolina voters were called out by name and were publicly accused of committing a crime.

“Today voters are fighting back,” said Allison Riggs, senior voting rights attorney at SCSJ. “We want to send the message loud and clear that it is wrong to intimidate voters by accusing them of committing a crime without having any evidence to support the claim.”

When former Gov. Pat McCrory was losing in the last election, his campaign began shouting claims of voter fraud across the state. GOP lawyers recruited residents from 52 of North Carolina’s 100 counties to file election protests against individuals accused of voting with a felony, voting in a deceased person’s name or voting in multiple states.

William Clark Porter IV, who is named as the defendant in the lawsuit, could not be reached for comment. Porter is committee chairman of the Guilford County Republican Party.

He accused nine voters of casting ballots in another state, eight of voting with felony convictions and said one deceased person voted.

Karen Niehans, 74, and her husband Sam Niehans, plaintiffs in the lawsuit, were both accused of voting in two states. They moved to Jamestown in 2016 to be closer to family and both of the claims against them were found to be without merit.

“This was personal,” Karen Niehans said. “My democratic right to vote was challenged. It’s as if someone was saying that I was less than others, that my voice shouldn’t count. That’s just plain wrong to do to someone and I am not going to take it. I want to make sure that this doesn’t happen to anyone else.”

Louis Bouvier of Greensboro was also accused of voting in two states. Unlike the Niehans, Bouvier has voted in North Carolina consistently since 1988.

“My son and I share a name. That’s likely why someone accused me of voting in two states,” Bouvier said. “But it’s a sorry state of affairs when someone can accuse you of a crime without properly vetting or researching the facts.”

Gabriel Thabet of Greensboro, another plaintiff, was accused of not being allowed to vote due to a felony conviction from 19 years ago. However, North Carolinians with a felony record have their rights automatically restored after they have served their sentence and completed parole.

His vote was ultimately counted.

“I have spent the last 19 years trying to forget the mistakes that I made as a kid,” Thabet said. “I wish that I had never been accused of not being allowed to vote. Just as I had to learn from my childhood mistakes, I cannot change the past but I can help shape the future. I am standing up to make sure other people are not intimidated the way I was.”

In 2013, North Carolina passed a monster voter suppression law. Although the law was struck down by the Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, state legislators used similar baseless claims to cast doubt over the elections process to build support for passing the measure, according to SCSJ.

There are concerns that the unsupported challenges to voters in 2016 will be used for the same purpose.

“This case is about protecting the rights of every eligible voter to be able to cast their ballot without being intimidated or having to face baseless accusations,” Riggs said. “Voters are pushing back against vague and unfounded claims of voter fraud being used to drum up support for voter suppression laws. Today is the day that voters fight back.”

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