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NY Times highlights stories of North Carolinians charged with illegal voting

The New York Times did a deep dive into the prosecution of 12 people in Alamance County charged with illegally voting in the 2016 presidential election.

The 12 Alamance County residents, nine of whom are Black, were all on probation or parole for felony convictions at the time they voted, which is not legal in North Carolina, the newspaper reports.

The cases are rare compared with the tens of millions of votes cast in state and national elections. In 2017, at least 11 people nationwide were convicted of illegal voting because they were felons or noncitizens, according to 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.

The case against the 12 voters in Alamance County — a patchwork of small towns about an hour west of the state’s booming Research Triangle — is unusual for the sheer number of people charged at once. And because nine of the defendants are black, the case has touched a nerve in a state with a history of suppressing African-American votes.

The Times reports that local civil-rights groups and Black leaders urged the district attorney (Pat Nadolski, a Republican) to drop the prosecution, saying that Black voters were being disproportionately punished for an unwitting mistake.

African-Americans in North Carolina are more likely to be disqualified from voting because of felony convictions; their rate of incarceration is more than four times that of white residents, according to the Prison Policy Initiative, a nonprofit organization.

“It smacks of Jim Crow,” said Barrett Brown, the head of the Alamance County N.A.A.C.P. Referring to the district attorney, he added, “I don’t think he targeted black people. But if you cast that net, you’re going to catch more African-Americans.”

Mr. Nadolski said that race and ethnicity are not a factor in any case he prosecutes.

Reporter Jack Healy interviewed five of the accused Alamance residents, who all told him their voting was a mistake — they didn’t understand the voter forms they signed and didn’t know the law.

Nadolski told Healy he was trying to maintain the integrity of the voting system.

Activists have protested outside the county courthouse and asked supporters to flood the district attorney’s office with letters and phone calls on the defendants’ behalf.

Whitney Brown, 32, said that no judge, lawyer or probation officer ever told her that 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.

By November 2016, she was complying with her probation and focused on moving ahead with her life, caring for her two sons, who are now 6 and 9 years old, and taking online classes to become a medical receptionist. So when her mother invited her to come with her to vote for president, Ms. Brown said she did so without a second thought.

Months later, she got a letter from state election officials telling her she appeared to have voted illegally. “My heart dropped,” she said.

You can read the full article here, which includes more information about and interviews with the “Alamance 12.”

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