Laura Ashley Powell
19 individuals from 14 different countries were charged by a federal court in Wilmington, North Carolina for either registering to vote or casting a ballot. These individuals were not U.S. citizens, but claimed to be at the time of registering or voting. Eight of them, who were only charged with voting illegally, were from Haiti, Germany and Poland.
Nine of them, from Mexico, Japan and Nigeria, were charged with both registering and voting illegally. Two others, in addition to illegally registering and voting, were also charged with visa or passport fraud. A 20th person was accused of assisting one of the individuals who has illegally claimed citizenship.
At least nine of those charged live permanently in the United States as legal residents. One man, a 58-year-old from the Dominican Republic, had gained citizenship in 1999 after entering the country under a false identity since he had been previously deported. He pleaded guilty to passport fraud and illegally voting, and will receive up to 11 years in prison and a fine of $350,000. Most of the 19 charged will face between one and six years in prison, and a fine between $100,000 and $350,000.
These indictments were brought up by Republicans in North Carolina’s state legislature in light of the proposed state constitutional amendment to require all voters to present valid identification at the time of voting. This amendment will be on the ballot in November for the midterm elections.
Previously, legislators in North Carolina attempted to pass voter ID laws, but were unsuccessful when a federal court ruled the proposed amendment to be discriminatory towards African-Americans.
In the general election in November 2016, approximately 4.8 million people cast their vote in North Carolina. According to a study by the state’s Board of Elections, about 500 of those votes were cast by ineligible individuals. The majority of those 500 were ineligible because of felony records. Many of them were unaware that their criminal records could keep them from voting. The report from North Carolina’s State Board of Elections adds that these 500 votes did not affect the results of the election.
Similarly, some of the 19 indicted for illegally voting were confused about their ability to vote, particularly the ones who have been living in the United States for an extended time. One man, Dieudonne Soifils, is a 71-year-old from Haiti and has been a legal resident of the US since 1976. He voted not only in the 2016 election, but also in the 2012 election. To prevent confusion like this in the future, the state is planning on revising the voter registration form to include boxes to check that will confirm that the person registering is a citizen and does not have an active felon status.
“We know that our democracy works best when more people participate. Unfortunately, the rules that make some people ineligible aren’t always clear to the public,” said Allison Riggs, the senior attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice in a statement concerning the findings of the study. “We need to find better ways to inform people that they are ineligible to vote while finding ways to get more eligible voters engaged and participating in our democracy.”
According to Pat Gannon, the spokesman of the State of Election board, the same study on voting statistics was not conducted in 2012, so it is not possible to know if the 500 ineligible voters is an increase from the previous election.