A North Carolina woman is facing more than three years in prison because she voted in the 2016 presidential election while she was on probation.
Lanisha Bratcher did not know she had done anything wrong until police arrived at her home on July 2019 to arrest her. She told The Guardian the officers stormed into her home “like the Dukes of Hazzard” and took her into custody.
Hoke County prosecutors initially charged Bratcher with one felony count of illegal voting in July 2019, but the charges were doubled last month, with the prosecutor charging Bratcher with lying about her eligibility to vote on two forms, her voter registration and her early voting form. If convicted, the 32-year-old faces 19 months in prison on each count.
Bratcher, whose case echoes that of Texas woman Crystal Mason, was on probation for a felony assault conviction when she cast her ballot in 2016. The prosecution told her the original charge would be dropped but instead, a grand jury issued two additional indictments.
The pregnant mother of two insists she was unaware she could not vote until she finished her sentence.
“I had no intention to trick anybody or be malicious or any kind of way,” she told The Guardian. “If you expect us to know that we should know we should not do something, then we should not be on the list or even allowed to do it.”
North Carolina considers illegal voting a “strict liability” felony, meaning the prosecution does not have to prove the Bratcher intended to vote illegally. Gary Freeze, a professor of history and American studies at Catawba College, told The Guardian the law is based on a 19th century efforts to prevent Black people from gaining political power.
“White supremacists did not want [another] reform effort – hence the severe penalty for those who could be proven to be voting with a criminal background,” he explained.
A Democratic Party handbook published in 1898 explicitly accused the Republican party of advocating for Black suffrage to gain power. The text said suppression laws were enacted “to protect the white voters of the State against having their honest votes off-set by illegally and fraudulently registered negro votes.”
John Carella, Bratcher’s lawyer, believe the law is serving its intended purpose.
“In response to being made aware of the explicitly white supremacist history of the law and the unconstitutional way in which it was applied, the DA decided, rather than to dismiss or back off those charges, to essentially double down with more felonies and try to prevent that history and that unconstitutional challenge from being aired in court,” Carella said.
“The prosecutions serve the same purpose as the original law – to intimidate black voters in North Carolina.”
In North Carolina, 441 people have been investigated for committing voter fraud and most of them, 68 percent, are Black, according to figures from the North Carolina State Board of Elections. African-Americans only make up 22 percent of the state’s registered voters. Data from the North Carolina Office of Research and Planning state 46 percent of the state’s offenders who are on probation or parole are Black.
Bratcher is currently out on bond. A week after her new indictments were signed, in Hoke County’s neighboring congressional district, former North Carolina congressional candidate Mark Harris was cleared of any wrongdoing related to a ballot fraud case that led to a nullification of the 2018 9th District general election result for the district’s congressional seat, reported The News Observer.
Harris, a Republican, hired Bladen County political worker McCrae Dowless to gather his absentee ballots for the midterms. He was later accused of manipulating ballots in Harris’ favor. In the first election, Harris won the 9th District congressional seat by 905 votes in the general election. After the special election called to fill the seat when the general election result was tossed out, former state Sen. Dan Bishop, another member of the GOP, won the seat. Dowless is facing several charges, including multiple counts of obstruction of justice, conspiracy, and possession of an absentee ballot. He is also facing federal charges for collecting disability checks while working for political campaigns.
Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman announced the outcome of an investigation of Harris on July 15.
“Following more than a year of investigation by multiple State and Federal agencies into the involvement of former Congressional candidate Mark Harris and the Harris Campaign into the absentee ballot operations in Bladen County during the 2018 General Election, our office has concluded that there is not evidence which would support a criminal case against Dr. Harris and therefore, is closing the matter as to him,” Freeman said in a statement.
“Charges against multiple individuals including Mr. McCrae Dowless who was hired by the Harris campaign remain pending and investigators continue probing other areas of evidence.”