Attorneys identified as representing the North Carolina Republican Party supplied information about potential voter fraud to residents and then asked them to sign protests before filing the paperwork with local election boards, according to election protesters.
Protesters in Craven, Cumberland, Forsyth and Hoke counties said they would not have filed election protests had the attorneys, who identified themselves as being associated with the NC GOP, not contacted them with the names of voters accused of fraud.
“I probably wouldn’t have been able to obtain the information they had access to,” said Ronald Hartman, who filed an election protest in Hoke County accusing one man with a felony of voting illegally.
Hatman, who is chairman of the Hoke County GOP, said he did not verify if the man accused in the protest did in fact have a felony conviction before signing the document to be turned in by the attorney who contacted him in the first place. He added, however, that the election board verified it and pulled the vote.
“For me, I don’t care which side they’re on, I’m for a level playing field,” Hartman said. “I have no idea how this guy voted.”
The NC GOP and Gov. Pat McCrory’s Campaign did not return emails seeking comment.
McCrory’s campaign asked the State Board of Elections to assume jurisdiction over the 53 local election boards where protests had been filed, which they voted against. That move would have stripped those boards of control over their own proceedings, including investigations and hearings. Six counties, including Halifax, Durham and Cumberland, have already dismissed their protests, although appeals could still be filed.
Linda Petrou filed three protests in Forsyth County, one accusing two people with felony convictions of voting illegally; one alleging there were two deceased voters; and one alleging an error in vote count or tabulation.
Petrou is vice-chair of the county GOP and leads the literacy committee of the National Federation of Republican Women, but she also has a personal stake when it comes to voter fraud. She said her mother-in-law was recorded as having voted a year after her death in the early 90s and it took years to get her off the voter registry.
“I just have a really, really big problem with election fraud,” she said.
She was asked by attorneys she said she knew personally to file protests, and she agreed, assuming they were associated with McCrory’s Campaign. She said she looked into a couple names she was provided on the protest, but not all.
“It appeared they weren’t eligible to vote, and it turns out I was wrong,” Petrou said.
She added that the attorneys who asked her to file the protests did not discuss with her any potential for litigation stemming from wrongfully accusing voters of fraud, but she assumed there was some liability going into it. She said the purpose of filing a protest was for a board to look into the allegation, and she wasn’t worried about the outcome.
“They have access to much more accurate information than I do,” she said of the election board.
Gerry Cohen, former special counsel to the state legislature and an expert on state election law, said there should have been more research involved before protests were filed.
“You can’t run around accusing people of felonies without adequate research,” he said. “That’s dangerous business.”
Irrespective of whether those people could sue for libel or defamation, the incorrect accusation of voter fraud could follow them later in life. Cohen pointed out that the protests are filed electronically, and if one of the people accused of a felony applied for a job in a year, employers could find the information out there.
Anita Earls, Executive Director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, said making allegations against voters is intimidating and could stick with residents next time they go to vote.
“I think it’s a pretty serious allegation to make against someone,” she said.
In the case of individuals with felony convictions, she said it’s difficult enough when her organization tries to get them to re-register to vote after their probation or parole ends, this will make it more challenging.
“People are afraid,” Earls said. “Even though we are lawyers, they don’t believe us that they can register to vote. … This kind of action of falsely accusing just adds to that fear.”
There were 39 individuals accused in the 53 protests of illegally voting because of a felony conviction. At a meeting Sunday though, the State Board of Elections indicated there could be as many as 339 after an IT director informed them Friday he had created a database to take in information from the Department of Correction and then ran it against voters’ names for provisional research.
Jerry Reinoehl filed two protests in Cumberland County, one against a person accused of having a felony, and testified at a hearing Monday morning of the local election board, which ultimately dismissed everything.
He was disappointed that the attorneys who asked him to protest did not show up to the hearing.
“I was left there to basically defend my actions because I signed (the protests),” he said via phone after the hearing. “If they want us to support the effort, one would think they would follow through with the process. … I probably didn’t do a good job today, but again, it was me against the world.”
Reinoehl, a retired Army Major who ran for Fayetteville City Council in 2013 but lost, said he is a McCrory supporter and donated to his campaign. He said he typically researches things like voter fraud but likely would not have filed protests with the information he received.
Carl Mischka, chairman of the Craven County GOP, said he was contacted by an attorney with the NC GOP and asked by email to file two protests; one accusing a woman with a felony conviction of voting illegally and another alleging there were two deceased voters.
He said the woman’s ballot was thrown out but the two voters who were deceased were accepted because they died after mailing their ballots in. He added that he wouldn’t have protested were he not asked, “because there’s too much else going on in this world.”
“I think we’ve got a real sticky wicket,” he said of the election, adding that a voter identification law would be his solution. “We’ve got a real mess.”