Barron McCollum received an official letter at 10 a.m. last week asking him to appear at a Forsyth County Board of Elections hearing at 9 a.m. that same day to defend his vote in the general election.
The 66-year-old Winston-Salem man had to call the local elections office twice before he received any information about what was going on, and what he actually got was scant: “Your case has been dismissed.”
McCollum had no idea what happened or why his vote was contested in the first place, but he said he was still relieved to hear he wasn’t in any sort of trouble.
“I was kind of wondering what went wrong, considering I had a voter ID,” he said. “But they didn’t talk to me about it. I was just hoping when she said it was dismissed, everything was OK.”
Gov. Pat McCrory’s Campaign is involved with more than 50 election protests across the state – all of which the State Board ordered to be dismissed as of late Monday night. The Republican governor is losing to Democrat Roy Cooper, but has refused to concede the election and is pulling out all the stops to delay the official results.
Democracy North Carolina, which has asked McCrory to stop the protests, analyzed records from the Department of Public Safety and the State Board of Elections and found that of the 43 individuals targeted for voting with a felony, 18 are not serving felony sentences (that’s 42 percent for those who are better with the overall).
Thirteen of those individuals were found to be on probation for misdemeanor violations, which does not terminate their right to vote. Five were not serving any sentence at all and were completely misidentified in protests, including a white male Republican.
“Honest voters are being maligned by sloppy research – some might even say gross negligence – just to create the impression that widespread fraud has ruined an election,” said Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy NC. “It’s shameful and it should stop.”
A person on probation or parole for a felony conviction may not legally vote in North Carolina, but individuals with an active misdemeanor sentence may still register and vote.
In McCollum’s case, he is serving an active misdemeanor sentence. He said he has a felony conviction on his record from the late 80s, but has since had his voting rights restored. This election was the first in recent memory he said he’s voted in.
“For a while, I didn’t think I had a right to vote,” he said. “I think I needed to [vote in this election] because the way things are now, and I felt kind of good about it.”
He said he’s not sure if being accused of having a felony now will affect him later in life, but that he can deal with it if it does.
“It could be worse,” he said. “I’ll still vote; I’m glad I can.”
Still, officials worry about the overall impact the false accusations might have on the population of individuals who have felony convictions but are still eligible to vote.
“It sends a message that felons can’t vote, and that’s not true,” said Dennis Gaddy, executive director of Community Success Initiative. “They’re also putting everyone in the same boat- [people with] misdemeanors or felonies. If you have a misdemeanor, you never lose your right to vote, and there are already a lot of misconceptions out there.”
Gaddy’s non-profit organization works with men and women who are transitioning from prison and jail or who otherwise find themselves entangled in the criminal justice system. He said part of the group’s education and advocacy efforts involve informing individuals of their right to vote based on their conviction or sentence.
“I still run into felons who think they can’t vote,” he said.
Anita Earls, executive director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, also expressed concern last week about the impact on future voters. Her organization works to re-register individuals with felonies after their probation or parole ends.
“People are afraid,” she 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.”
And there could be consequences for those who are accused in the protests of having felonies who are actually serving misdemeanor sentences or who were misidentified completely, since technically their names are filed electronically in the protests.
“Even the people with the misdemeanors may be blackballed now,” Gaddy said. “We’ve seen that people don’t care about what’s true, they care about what they read.”
Hall said the biggest fraud in this election “is the McCrory operatives filing dozens of false charges that damage the reputation of voters, election officials, and the voting process.”
Some of the people who filed protests admitted last week to not looking up information on the documents, and not caring about the outcome, including Linda Petrou, who filed the protest that falsely accused McCollum.
The vice-chair of the Forsyth County GOP said attorneys she assumed were with McCrory’s campaign asked her to file protests, and she agreed without fully looking into it and without worrying about the outcome or if she was right.
“This happens all the time,” she said of the false accusations. “I think part of the problem is we’ve got to clean up the DMV records.”
McCollum said he thinks part of the problem is individuals’ ability to accuse other people openly without proper research to back up their claims.
“No, I don’t think it should be able to happen,” he said. “How did they find out even if I did have a felony conviction?”
Gaddy agreed and said his organization fights for accuracy of public records. If the claims were dismissed, he said, the names on them should not be accessible.
“I just think people need to get their information straight,” he added.