Local Politics

Voting fraud suspects claim they weren't trying to cheat

Posted August 11, 2011 12:15 p.m. EDT
Updated August 11, 2011 10:28 p.m. EDT

— Three people were charged Thursday with voter fraud after authorities determined that they voted twice in Wake County in the 2008 election, and a fourth was charged with voting twice last year, officials said.

Cherie Poucher, executive director of the Wake County Board of Elections, said evidence showed all three voted early and on Election Day.

The elections board turned the case over to the Wake County District Attorney's Office to investigate and pursue criminal charges, Poucher said.

Shelia Ramona Hodges, 46, and Kierra Fontae Leach, 26, both of 2707 Pheiffer Drive, Brandon Earl McLean, 25, of 2900 Bethune Drive, and Lela Devonetta Murray, 55, of 3201 Edwards Mill Road, each face a felony charge of voter fraud. District Attorney Colon Willoughby said more arrests are possible.

"One of the bedrocks of our democracy is that we have fair and open elections, and I think this goes to the fabric of fairness and the public's perception of the credibility of open elections," Willoughby said.

The charges carry a maximum sentence of 15 months in prison.

Warrants state that Hodges and McLean both cast early ballots at Chavis Heights Community Center and then voted on Election Day at their regular polling places. Meanwhile, Leach filed a "no-excuse absentee ballot" on Oct. 29, 2008, and then voted six days later at a polling place on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, according to an arrest warrant.

Poucher said the large turnout in 2008 made it difficult for precinct workers to check off all of the early voters from the rolls of eligible voters.

Voter turnout in the 2008 election was 69 percent statewide, which officials said was one of the highest in decades. Democrat Barack Obama defeated Republican John McCain by fewer than 15,000 votes out of more than 4.3 million ballots cast in the presidential race in North Carolina.

Murray voted on Election Day last November at the Green Road Park Community Center and then cast a provisional ballot at Stough Elementary School, an arrest warrant states.

McLean and his fiancee Leach admit to participating in early voting in the 2008 election. Unsure about the process on Election Day, they said they went to the polls to make sure their vote counted. 

"I was confused and did not know," McLean said. "This is my second time voting for a president in my life." 

Leach said she even told a poll worker about it. 

"We told her we had already early voted, and we just wanted to make sure it counted," Leach said. "She said, 'If you have a ballot, then go ahead and vote.' And that is what we did. We did not think anything of it." 

McLean said they were not trying to cheat the system. 

After this ordeal, McLean said he thinks voting should be simplified and have tougher checks and balances.

Republican lawmakers backed legislation this year calling for voters to present photo identification before casting ballots, saying the requirement would combat voter fraud. Democrats argued that cases of voter fraud were rare and that the ID requirement would only add a hurdle for many voters, such as college students, the elderly and the poor.

Gov. Beverly Perdue vetoed the voter ID bill, and the House fell short last month in its effort to override the veto.

Willoughby said the charges against the four don't involve a case of someone voting under someone else's name, which the ID legislation targeted.

Poucher said the Wake County elections board referred fewer than 10 names to prosecutors in 2008-10 for suspected voter fraud, which she said proves that the existing system works.