Four voters in Guilford County have filed a defamation suit against a man who accused them of voter fraud after the November 2016 elections.
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in Guilford County Superior Court, accuses William Clark Porter IV, a committee chairman for the Guilford Republican Party, with filing post-election protests with the Guilford County elections board that contained inaccurate and defamatory statements. Efforts to reach Porter, a Greensboro resident, were not immediately successful.
The four voters making the claims are:
▪ Karen Niehans, a 74-year-old Jamestown resident, and her husband Sam Niehans, each accused erroneously of voting in two states.
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▪ Louis Bouvier, a Greensboro resident and North Carolina voter since 1988, also accused erroneously of voting in two states.
▪ Gabriel Thabet, a Greensboro resident accused of not being able to vote because of a felony conviction 19 years ago, though his rights were restored after he served his sentence and completed parole.
After the 2016 general election, at least 85 people across North Carolina were accused of voting in multiple states or being ineligible to vote because of a felony conviction, according to the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, the legal team behind the voters’ defamation suit. Each of those challenges was thrown out, the coalition says.
The lawsuit comes at a time when unsupported claims of widespread voter fraud have been cast out and debunked, but linger in political debate.
President Donald Trump claimed that millions of illegal votes were cast in the 2016 election and continues to press the issue despite no evidence to support his assertions. Though those claims were vague, in North Carolina the post-election protests listed voters by name, publicly and erroneously accusing them of crimes.
“Today voters are fighting back,” said Allison Riggs, Senior Voting Rights Attorney at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “We want to send the message loud and clear that it is wrong to intimidate voters by accusing them of committing a crime without having any evidence to support the claim.”
Karen Niehans, who moved to North Carolina with her husband in August 2016 to be closer to family, described the experience in a statement as having her democratic right to vote challenged. Ultimately the votes that she and her husband cast were counted, but the experience soured them.
“It’s as if someone was saying that I was less than others, that my voice shouldn’t count,” Niehans said in the statement. “That’s just plain wrong to do to someone, and I am not going to take it. I want to make sure that this doesn’t happen to anyone else.”
Bouvier had a simple explanation for why his name might have showed up on a voter roll in a different state. “My son and I share a name,” he said in a statement. “That’s likely why someone accused me of voting in two states. But it’s a sorry state of affairs when someone can accuse you of a crime without properly vetting or researching the facts.”
Thabet has tried to build a new life since the mistakes he made in the past. “I wish that I had never been accused of not being allowed to vote,” Thabet said. “Just as I had to learn from my childhood mistakes, I cannot change the past, but I can help shape the future. I am standing up to make sure other people are not intimidated the way I was.”
Trump announced on Sunday that Vice President Mike Pence would lead a commission to investigate allegations of widespread voter fraud, using federal resources to look into claims that have been debunked.
Leaders in the North Carolina Republican Party have talked about similar efforts. Legislators are expected to revisit election laws this year after the post-election allegations made by former Gov. Pat McCrory’s campaign.
The campaign and Republican allies filed protests about voters who they suspected were either dead, serving felony sentences or voted more than once. They also challenged community groups funded by the N.C. Democratic Party that assisted voters with casting absentee ballots.
The State Board of Elections threw out the protests, saying they didn’t follow the proper protocol for contesting a voter’s eligibility. While some people were wrongly accused, an elections board official searched a database and found 339 voters who appeared to be serving an active felony sentence. The board decided not to review those cases further because they weren’t the subject of valid election protests.