RALEIGH — Nine people in Wake County are being prosecuted on felony charges for voting twice in the 2008 presidential election.
Three of them were arrested Thursday, and the others are being sought, Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby said. All of them are accused of participating in early voting or mailing absentee ballots in addition to casting second votes on election day.
None of the cases would have been prevented if the voters had been required to show photo identification, but the charges come on the heels of a contentious debate over the issue. In June, the governor vetoed a bill requiring voter ID; the state House failed to override the veto, but Republicans have kept the bill alive.
As word of the arrests spread Thursday, the state Republican Party sent out an I-told-you-so news release. "The reason why Republicans have fought to promote proper voter-identification laws is to prevent fraud like this from happening," party Chairman Robin Hayes said in the release.
But Willoughby and county elections officials said this was a routine batch of voting irregularities, albeit a few more than usual because of the high voter turnout for that election.
"We've been having voter fraud as long as we've been voting," Willoughby said. "I don't think voter ID had anything to do with this - just people voting twice, not using another person's name or dead Aunt Betty."
Although the nine cases are being prosecuted at the same time, they aren't connected through any organized conspiracy to commit fraud, Willoughby said. The only connection known so far is that two of those arrested Thursday live in the same house.
County elections director Cherie Poucher said the recent cases involved Democratic and Republican voters. About 10 cases were referred to the district attorney, and nine led to prosecution. Poucher said there are a handful of referrals in each election cycle, sometimes as few as one or two.
Seventy-five percent of registered voters in Wake County cast ballots in the 2008 presidential election, which amounted to some 440,000 people voting.
The State Board of Elections reports that an average of about a dozen voter fraud cases were referred to prosecutors statewide between 2002 and 2006, but then more than 200 in 2008. About 4.2 million people voted in North Carolina in 2008.
Poucher said elections officials begin verifying signatures and voting activity immediately after each election. "The processes that we have in place after an election guarantee the integrity of the election," she said.
The county elections board reviews all of the irregularities and decides which ones to refer for prosecution. Aida Doss Havel, chairwoman of the board, said sometimes it's obvious the voter is very old and most likely mistakenly voted twice. Cases like that, she said, are not referred for prosecution.
"I cannot speak for other counties," Havel said. "I know that in Wake County the staff has many, many ways of catching them."
Willoughby referred these nine cases to the State Bureau of Investigation in March 2010, according to the Attorney General's Office.
It isn't clear why it took so long to refer, investigate and begin arresting people. Election law violations fall under the SBI's jurisdiction.
Two of the three arrested Thursday live in the same house, and the third lives around the corner from them in South Raleigh. Booked into the Wake County jail on the felony charges were:
Shelia Ramona Hodges, 46, andKierra Fontae Leach, 26, both of 2707 Pheiffer Drive; and Brandon Earl McLean, 25, of 2900 Bethune Drive. Each posted $10,000 bail and was released.
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