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Black woman faces prison for voting while on probation

The pregnant mother of two says she was unaware of the restriction when she voted in 2016.

Lanisha Bratcher Jeremy M Lange

A North Carolina woman named Lanisha Bratcher is facing over three years in prison for voting in the 2016 presidential election while she was on probation. Speaking with The Guardian, the 32-year-old Black mother of two said she had no idea she wasn’t allowed to vote until police arrived at her home in 2019 to arrest her.

“I had no intention to trick anybody or be malicious or any kind of way,” she told the outlet. “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.”

Bratcher had voted while on probation for felony assault, which is prohibited in North Carolina. The Hoke County District Attorney’s Office charged her with a class 1 felony for illegal voting and the case has been pending since last year. However, prosecutors are now attempting to swap the charge with two new felony counts against Bratcher, who is currently pregnant with her third child. The counts are for allegedly lying on her voter forms about her voter eligibility. Bratcher faces a maximum of 19 months for each count.

“It feels like in some ways she’s being punished or targeted for fighting back,” her lawyer John Carella said. “She’s certainly upset this is still going on. She is trying to move on with her life.”

Carella initially disputed the charges by arguing that the state’s voting restriction stems from a racist 19th century statue that was used to disenfranchise Black voters. The Guardian found that a North Carolina Democratic handbook from 1898 actually encouraged Black voter suppression to protect the “white people of the East.”

“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,” Carella said. “The prosecutions serve the same purpose as the original law — to intimidate Black voters in North Carolina.”

The Guardian reports that voter fraud charges were also brought against three other African American people in Hoke County around the same as Bratcher. Investigators from the State Board of Elections reportedly informed the District Attorney that many felons are not made aware of the state’s voting restrictions and that Bratcher and the three others might not have known they were doing anything wrong. However, prosecutors continued to pursue the charges.

With the new felony counts, the District Attorney will have to prove that Bratcher “knowingly” made false claims about her voter eligibility on voting forms. She is currently out on bond.

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