News, Voting

Targeting of left-leaning cities continues with Asheville

A bill to change the way Asheville elects its city council members passed the Senate Wednesday, echoing changes handed down from Raleigh in other politically left-leaning cities.

You may remember a federal court recently struck down the General Assembly’s forced redistricting of the city of Greensboro.

The Asheville and Greensboro redistricting aren’t identical. But there are some interesting similarities:

* In both cases, the redistricting is opposed by the existing city council, elected by the actual citizens of each city.

* In both cases, the General Assembly rejected the idea of first holding a referendum in the city to decide on the redistricting to discern the actual will of the people there.

* Both redistricting plans would reduce the number and influence of council members elected at-large or by the entire city. In both cities, at-large seats tend to go to left-leaning candidates as the number of Democrats outstrips the number of Republicans.

Whether the Asheville redistricting will be successfully challenged in court remains to be seen. But it’s the latest example in what has become a well-established pattern of the Republican majority in Raleigh targeting the governments of cities with enduring Democratic majorities.

News, Voting

Voting rights group: Investigate McCrory’s false “voter fraud” claims

Voter rights group Democracy NC is calling for a state and federal criminal investigation into false claims of voter fraud made by former governor Pat McCrory campaign during last year’s bruising gubernatorial contest.

You may remember the false accusations the surfaced after McCrory narrowly lost to Roy Cooper. McCrory, a Republican, contested the election results and dragged out the process even as GOP majorities on the State Board of Election and county election boards across the state rejected his claims of fraud.

Now Democracy NC is releasing an 16-page report on the McCrory campaign’s accusations, the people wrongfully accused of voter fraud and the “wrongdoing related to preparing, filing and promoting bogus charges of voter fraud.”

The report, the result of a five-month investigation, will be released at a press conference at 1 p.m. today outside the State Board of Elections office in Raleigh.

We’ll have more on the report after its release this afternoon.

News, Voting

Voters falsely accused of fraud share stories, ask State Board of Elections for change

North Carolinians in 16 counties who were falsely accused of voter fraud last year by former Gov. Pat McCrory’s Campaign have asked the State Board of Elections to change its protest process.

When McCrory was losing the election last year, GOP lawyers recruited residents to file election protests against individuals accused of voting with a felony, voting in a deceased person’s name or voting in multiple states.

At least 85 voters were falsely accused and four are currently involved in a defamation lawsuit against the people who signed their protests.

Other voters who were falsely accused shared their stories with the Elections Board in a telephone conference Monday that was facilitated by the voting rights organization, Democracy North Carolina.

“I was literally shocked,” Betty B. Adams told Kim Strach, executive director of the Elections Board. “I was upset for several days.”

Joseph Golden described to Strach his surprise and frustration after seeing his name appear in Brunswick County newspapers and after reading someone’s social media post, “There’s a cheater amongst us.”

Anne Hughes of Moore County told Strach that she was “just incredulous” when she learned that she and her husband had been accused of voting in two states.

“I was shocked and horrified and furious to learn our name was on a list with people who were alleged to have broken a federal law,” she said.

Aysha Nasir of Orange County added, “You obey the law, you do all the stuff you’re supposed to, and then some person just randomly, without any burden of proof, can accuse you of breaking the law.”

Those voters and others presented Strach with a letter calling on the Elections Board to “(1) change the form for filing a protest complaint so it requires a presentation of evidence to support an allegation; and (2) create a process to hold accountable anyone who files a frivolous or negligent complaint or a pattern of repeated false complaints.”

You can read the full letter here.

You can listen part of the conference call where voters shared their shock and outrage over being falsely accused of voter fraud here.

Strach told the group that she appreciated hearing their statements, calling them “very powerful.” She said her staff was already working on possible revisions for the protest form and process, and she anticipated taking several recommendations to the five-member State Board of Elections at its next meeting.

One change she mentioned would require the protester to swear under penalty of perjury that the information in the form is true.

Bob Hall with Democracy NC said the organization is conducting a county-by-county investigation of the protests and their impact on innocent voters.

“Unfortunately, North Carolina is ground zero for witnessing the damage inflicted on honest voters and the elections system by inflated or bogus claims of voter fraud,” Hall said. “The testimony of the voters shows the real pain and harm caused by these irresponsible claims. Their stories also show that anybody can suddenly find themselves charged with a crime when voter fraud accusations are used as a political weapon.”

Courts & the Law, News, Voting

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

"Vote" pin

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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.”

News, Voting

PhD candidate tells story of voter fraud accusation in NC governor’s race

Brooks Sterritt found out he was accused of voter fraud in the most recent election via a Google Alert. The PhD candidate in the Program for Writers at the University of Illinois at Chicago wrote about his experience and what it taught me about belonging and exclusion in America for New Republic.

His name had appeared in the digital edition of his hometown’s daily newspaper. The article stated that the chairman of the Republican Party in Pasquotank County, where he had voted by mail-in absentee ballot, was attempting to invalidate Sterritt’s and 21 others by challenging their residency.

Sterritt was one of many people accused by Gov. Pat McCrory’s campaign of voter fraud. At the time he learned of the accusation, McCrory hadn’t yet conceded the election.

I initially found the challenge quite odd. I wasn’t a felon, hadn’t voted in another state, and hadn’t attempted to vote in someone else’s name. The GOP chairman behind the local challenge, Richard Gilbert, filed what is technically called an elections protest petition disputing my residency in the county. It’s true, I don’t reside in Pasquotank County. I voted by absentee ballot, something one does, by definition, when absent.

I’ve been a registered voter since 2002, and voted absentee while in college in North Carolina, in graduate school in Boston, while studying and teaching in a foreign country, and most recently while pursuing a doctorate in Chicago. I voted for Barack Obama in the 2008 primaries while teaching English in Rövershagen, Germany. I used the event for a unit on the American political process (the witnesses who signed my ballot weren’t even U.S. citizens). Indeed, the same principle allows members of the military to vote from overseas. Regardless of where one temporarily resides, a voter can legally cast a ballot using the address of their domicile, defined in part and somewhat poetically as the place “to which…that person has the intention of returning.”

Sterritt goes on in the piece to talk about his argument and tries to describe the basis for which he claims Pasquotank County as home.

Consider the weight of the combination “born and raised.” There’s an elemental edge to the phrase, as though it refers to something that came out of the ground. But merely being born somewhere, in and of itself, does little to change your lived experience going forward. Though my father was born in Canada, he never considered it his home. This is because his parents (U.S. citizens) returned with him to Upstate New York while he was still very young. Where I was born, where I grew up, where my parents live, where I lived for the longest period, where landmarks trigger the oldest memories: phrases that refer to the same place. If my parents moved to Big Arm, Montana, would I consider it my home? Doubtful. I wonder about other tipping points, however. I lived in one town for 18 years, and the latter 12 of those were in the same house. If I had instead lived in three towns for six years each, which would feel most like home?

Taken to extremes, the emphasis on origin, nativeness, “those who belong” leads to the converse: an emphasis on outsiders, strangers, foreign bodies, infectious agents. It’s no coincidence that the language of this most recent challenge to voter eligibility in Pasquotank County contains phrases like “symptom of voter fraud” and again, however redundantly, “symptom of a systemic infection of voter fraud.” Compare the president-elect’s words on illegal immigration: “Infectious disease” is “pouring across the border.” Consider the words of Michael Flynn, Donald Trump’s pick for national security advisor: “Islam is a political ideology. … It’s like a malignant cancer.”

Republicans, in their current form, are a party so desperate to win they are increasingly turning to voter suppression, partisan redistricting, and appeals to fear of the other. These and other efforts have only increased my desire to vote in North Carolina, and many share this view. The hard work of organizing as well as continuing demographic changes make it more likely North Carolina will be known as a progressive (though imperfect) southern state rather than the state that repealed the Racial Justice Act and introduced HB2. On December 15, the state board of elections, which had assumed jurisdiction over the challenge to my voter eligibility, voted unanimously to dismiss the challenge. I look forward to voting in North Carolina’s federally ordered special election in 2017.