GRAHAM — The Superior Courtroom of the Alamance County Historic Courthouse was especially crowded Tuesday afternoon for court appearances of the so-called “Alamance 12” and their supporters.
“This is not voter fraud; this is voter suppression,” said Rion Thompson, organizer with activist group Down Home North Carolina. “This is an effort to scare people from voting.”
In December, the District Attorney’s Office filed felony charges against 12 Alamance County residents for voting as convicted felons. There have been 16 such prosecutions across the state so far. The state constitution prohibits felons from voting until they have completed their sentences, including probation, parole and post-release supervision. It is a low-level felony, and in the most extreme cases habitual offenders could get up to two years in prison.
Down Home North Carolina organized an unpermitted protest outside the courthouse at 1 p.m. Tuesday. Graham police ordered the group to disperse, which it did. Many of the crowd of more than 20 walked up North Main Street to an outdoor table of Press Coffee and Crepes, where they bought bottles of mineral water and made the statements they had planned to make at the courthouse, before walking back to the courthouse and sitting in the courtroom in an event billed as “Pack the courtroom.”
The group included some local faces involved with groups, including the Alamance chapters of the NAACP and Indivisible, and some from out of town, who are becoming more familiar locally as Down Home North Carolina pushes back against local policies like the 287(g) program.
“If you continue this practice we will show up every damn time,” Thompson said, “because that’s what we’re supposed to do.”
Several Graham police officers came out during the protest, and the Sheriff’s Office made a strong showing with Sheriff Terry Johnson and about five deputies — mostly courthouse bailiffs — watching the protest from a distance, and four deputies with the Special Operations unit in green uniforms and bulletproof vests at the main entrance on the other side of the courthouse. Several senior deputies and Johnson were visible in the courtroom at different times, and the Special Operations deputies were near the courthouse entrances through the afternoon.
Organizer Todd Zimmer told the Times-News there were 50 supporters in the courtroom where Judge Carolyn Thompson was holding administrative hearings. Before going to the courthouse, organizer Juan Miranda asked the protesters to stand when they heard the names of the 12 people charged, but no one appeared to.
About 3:30 p.m., the 12 defendants — Michael Anthony Leon Haith, Wayne Spinks, Milton Lee Wilson, Neko Chantell Rogers, Robert Chase Wade, Steven Lee White, Taranta Lamar Holman, Whitney Cherrelle Brown, Willie Cornelius Vinson Jr., Ebonie Octavia Oliver, Jason Charles McLamb and Keith Sharrell Sellars — had their cases continued, mostly to the weeks of July 2 and 9.
The N.C. Board of Elections, as required by state law, issued an audit of the 2016 election in April 2017 showing 508 illegal votes were cast in North Carolina that year out of the 4.8 million cast. According to the report, those votes did not affect the results of any local, state or national races, but did violate the law.
Most of those illegal votes, 441, were convicted felons voting before their sentences were completed. The Board of Elections doesn’t call these cases of voter fraud since those voters might not have realized they were violating the law. Thirteen cases were reported in Alamance County, according to the report, and two cases of double voting.
Alamance is one of three counties to prosecute people for voting before their sentences were complete, but it has prosecuted far more than any other county, Board of Elections Public Information Officer Pat Gannon said. Moore County has convicted two people of voting as convicted felons, and Currituck County has charged two people. Many other cases are still under consideration, Gannon said.
“We investigate these cases and refer them to prosecutors as warranted,” Gannon said. “It’s up to the prosecutors in each district as to how they want to proceed with these cases.”
Reporter Isaac Groves can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org or 336-506-3045. Follow him on Twitter at @tnigroves.