North Carolina

19 people were charged with voting illegally in NC. Their biggest punishment so far: a $200 fine.

In 2016, Rosemarie Angelika Harris cast a vote in the U.S. presidential election, a federal crime considering her status as a green-card holder from Germany.

But before the federal case against her can proceed, the details of her parents’ connection overseas must be settled.

In a Raleigh courtroom Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Terrence Boyle delayed Harris’ case after learning that her citizenship and right to vote might hinge on whether she was a legitimate child.

Federal public defender Sherri Alspaugh said her client was born in Berlin, the daughter of a U.S. soldier, but the question of whether they were married at the time, or if Harris became legally legitimate later, is still being researched. Regardless, Harris registered to vote in North Carolina and was assigned a polling place in Cumberland County, court records said.

“It’s still very possible she’s a citizen,” Alspaugh said, describing the matter as “complicated.”

Harris’ case continues an emphasis on immigrant voters that dates to August, when federal agents charged 19 people in Eastern North Carolina with casting ballots without citizenship.

They came from various countries including Mexico, Haiti, the Philippines and Poland before becoming legal permanent residents — noncitizens who are ineligible to vote.

In announcing the arrests last year, U.S. Attorney Robert Higdon said Harris and others faced 12 months in prison and a $100,000 fine, and that others faced up to six years of federal confinement.

But so far, Boyle has handed down far more lenient punishments and criticized local election officials for ignorance of the law. Five of those 19 defendants have been prosecuted so far, four of them punished with a $100 fine — less than a speeding ticket. The fifth had a $200 sentence.

In January, Boyle, the chief judge in the eastern district of North Carolina, ordered Hyo Suk George to pay a $100 fine. A Korean-born resident of Columbus County, George voted in several presidential elections after being urged to register at her church. Alspaugh, the public defender in the case, said George, who speaks and understands limited English, had no intention to vote illegally.

Boyle spared George a prison sentence and reserved his criticism for local election officials who allowed her to vote.

“So they see a green card and say, ‘That’s OK’ because they don’t know what they’re doing,” he said in January. “They ought to be a little smarter than that.”

But the pushback against immigrant voting comes as U.S. Attorney Robert Higdon’s office is pursuing extensive records from the N.C. Board of Elections, a request from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

In August, the board received a subpoena seeking voter registration application forms, early-voting application forms, any “admission or denial of non-citizen return” forms and more.

Similar records were sought from 44 county elections boards across the state’s eastern half.

The board, through N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein, has sought to limit the scope of the subpoena, which it has described as “overly broad” and potentially containing private information such as Social Security numbers.

No motivation has been offered for the subpoenas, and whether they are related to the ongoing voter fraud investigation in the 9th congressional district is uncertain, The News & Observer has reported.

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Josh Shaffer covers Wake County and federal courts. He has been a reporter for The News & Observer since 2004 and previously wrote a column about unusual people and places.
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