Jan 6, 2015 (RALEIGH) — A common practice in much of NC was recently exposed and prosecuted. . . but not in North Carolina. It was a sleepy School Board race in the border town known as Donna, Texas. The perp was convicted of buying votes with cocaine and other incentives.
Before we look down at Texas, here’s a newsflash: Such illegal vote buying is thriving in our state too, so only the question involves how to drive it further underground.
Spoiler alert: the answer deals with changing the law to make detection and prosecution easier.
First, some facts from the Texas case. . .
Two big headlines on the Texas scandal involve a conviction of Francisco “Frankie” Garcia and the suspicious suicide of a elected School Board member, Alfredo Lugo.
The stench of this corruption was so noxious that the US Justice Department handled the prosecution and they convicted Garcia of “conspiring with others to pay voters to vote,” according to a Washington Examiner article, published last December. Note the “others” didn’t include any politicians, but the campaign operative who bought the votes may have been outed by three women whom he paid (and who themselves were under investigation). The politician who killed himself during the investigation was never identified as a target, according to the Texas Observer and the FBI will not confirm the politician’s involvement and the family has remained mum.
The New York Times gave in-depth coverage and found that the poorest of the poor were the targets of the vote-buying scheme. Some were so impoverished that it only took three bucks for them to sell their liberty and betray their neighbors. Others traded for things like a pack of smokes, a small bottle of hooch or even a line of cocaine.
Now my “compassionate” self-identified liberal friend (who earned millions of dollars through hard work) would say, “c’mon, Jay. “Do you really want to take money from the poor?” But if we follow that logic, we should never prosecute the poor for any victimless crimes; but, oh by the way, there were a LOT of victims in Texas: The election was stolen and public funds were directed by corrupted politicians susceptible to blackmail.
Meanwhile, back in the Tar Heel state. . .
I won’t rewrite the Texas Observer article here, but instead will reference what is known to be happening in at least one NC county that matches the Donna, Texas criminal pattern in almost every way, with a few changes. Instead of Donna County, Texas, substitute Robeson County, North Carolina; and instead of calling them “Politiqueras,” the folks in Robeson call them “haulers.” Oh, and one more detail: Instead of the Feds investigating the case, we believe the Robeson vote fraud is still under the auspices of North Carolina’s SBI. The rest is pretty much the same. . .except one more thing: The Robseon case has not yet yielded a single prosecution.
My well-placed source explained how the haulers would bid their services to the politicians in a conversation going something like this:
“Wow,” says the corrupt politician, “that’s a lot of money! I’ll have to think about it.”
“You can think all you want to,” says the hauler. “My next visit is to your opponent.”
According to the source, the hauler would eventually sell his block of votes to candidates up and down the ballot, at a price determined by the size and scope of each particular race.
So, the Sheriff might pay $5 per vote while the School Board candidate pays $7 per vote and a well-funded Congressional candidate would pay the $10 entry fee.
“At the end of the day,” said my source, “the hauler gets $22 for one vote and that gives him a lot of room to negotiate with each voter. One voter might want a pack of cigarettes and another will want a fifth of vodka. Either way, the hauler can cover it and still turn a profit.”
To be fair, some people haul voters to the polls out of love for the democratic process and there’s nothing wrong with that. The crime is when haulers run a small economic enterprise and pay for votes, which is already illegal under NC law § 163-275 (2).
Last year’s General Assembly tried to throw some sand into the machinery by outlawing straight-ticket voting; but it didn’t even slow the bad guys down. Now, they simply hand the mercenary voter a list of candidates or a sample ballot; and in order to get paid, the voter has to fill in the bubble for the entire list and bring back his “I Voted” sticker as proof.
Two remedies the NC Legislature could consider involve either raising the penalty for buying votes or incentivizing the paid voters to flip on their haulers and turn them in. . . or to reward the whistle blowers.
The current crime is listed as a paltry Class I Felony, which sounds pretty good until you realize it’s not a “one” but an “eye” felony. This means there is no lower level of felony in NC’s General Statutes. After that, it becomes a misdemeanor and this is part of the problem with getting plea bargains on all types of vote fraud, according to legal experts with whom we’ve consulted.
Typically, the threat of a costly trial can be waived if the accused will plea to a lesser charge of “attempted [insert name of the crime here].” This drops the penalty by one level, so a Class F felony becomes a Class G. The problem is that a Class I has nowhere to go but to a misdemanor!
The Prosecutor’s reasoning is that he or she needs a jury trial in order to convict. And that’s a lot of risk (not to mention expense) just to get a conviction. So they cut a deal. It gets reduced to “attempted vote fraud,” and the perp voted again a few years later! We will elaborate on this problem at a future date, but you get the idea.
The Voter Integrity Project recommends raising the minimum penalty enough to make even an “attempted vote fraud,” plea bargain result in a felony conviction. In other words, “change the penalty for vote fraud to at least a Class H felony.”
The second way to combat illegal vote hauling schemes would involve making detection easier. It would take Legislative courage, but a hefty reward program for catching illegal haulers might make them think twice before offering a bribe for a vote.
One candidate who was at the polls, greeting voters told me that a voter said something like, “I’d like to vote for you, Roger, but I got paid $5 to vote for [the other candidate].”
Stunned at what he’d just heard, Roger asked, “if I paid you $10 to go home and not vote, would you?”
“Yes,” came the answer.
Now, we’re not advocating that strategy and Roger did not pay the guy. Instead, he lost his election. . . with his head held high.