Lanisha Bratcher, a North Carolina mother is facing up to 19 months in prison for voting in the 2016 election while on probation with a felony assault charge.
What We Know:
- Bratcher claims she had no idea she was not allowed to participate in voting due to her felony charge. Hoke County district attorney has been accused of using a 19th century Jim Crow-era law to prosecute Bratcher. Initially, she was charged with a single felony, and prosecutors were going to dismiss this charge against her. But in June, they decided to pursue charges on two felony accounts and have changed the charge to a class 1 felony for voting while serving a criminal sentence; she is now facing up to 19 months in prison. Bratcher’s prosecution comes after state officials noticed flaws within the system that informs convicted felons of their voting rights.
- Bratcher told The Guardian, “I had no intention to trick anybody or be malicious or any kind of way. 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.” In 48 out of the 50 states, Americans who convicted of felonies are ineligible to vote, but the policies for formerly incarcerated individuals vary by state. In North Carolina, felons are only allowed to vote after the completion of their sentence, including probation or parole.
- According to The Guardian, Hoke County’s decision to bring forth charges against Bratcher and three other African Americans for voter fraud is unusual. Investigators from the state board of elections wrote a letter to Hoke County’s district attorney, Kristy Newton, to inform her that many felons are not told about their voting restrictions and that these individuals might have made a mistake. Newton was told that there were not enough resources to review Bratcher’s case. Still, she proceeded anyway, and Bratcher’s, along with the mugshots of the other three African Americans, was on the local news within hours.
- Bratcher’s lawyer, John Carella, says, “It feels like in some ways she’s being punished or targeted for fighting back. She’s certainly upset this is still going on. She is trying to move on with her life.” He says not allowing felony convictions to vote is unconstitutional and racist. Carella went on to argue about North Carolina’s felon disenfranchisement statute that dates back to the 19th century. This statute was created by white lawmakers and used it as a tool to disenfranchise African Americans and take away their political power after the civil war.
- Carella says, “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.”
- In 2018, a Texas woman, Crystal Mason, was sentenced to five years in Texas state penitentiary because she too voted while on probation. When Mason went to vote in the 2016 election, her name was not registered on the voting polls, so she cast a provisional ballot. On the form she filled out, it read: “I understand that it is a felony of the 2nd degree to vote in an election for which I know I am not eligible.” Mason did not pay attention to those words and continued with the voting process. Three months after Trump won, she was arrested and had to spend the night in jail. In 2019, Mason went on to appeal her five-year sentence.
The charges against Bratcher came amid nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd, who is also from Hoke County.