Local News

Boy, Father Charged in Voter Fraud Case

Posted December 3, 1996 12:00 a.m. EST

— A 14-year-old Durham boy and his father have been criminally charged for the boy's admission that he voted in the Nov. 5 election.

A Durham County grand jury indicted Jerry Winegarden on a felony charge of helping his son commit voter fraud and a misdemeanor charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor on Monday.

The Durham County district attorney's office also filed a charge of voter fraud against the boy, Ben Winegarden, in a juvenile petition, according to a news release.

The teen told The Herald-Sun of Durham last month that he registered to vote in the summer during an alternative music concert, Lollapalooza, held in Rockingham. He listed his birthdate as 1956, but gave his correct name and address.

Then, he said he decided to see if he could vote on Nov. 5. He and his father went to their precinct in Durham County and Ben cast a ballot, voting straight Republican.

``The right to vote is a cherished privilege of citizenship. The right of eligible citizens to vote or choose not to vote for our nation's leaders is the cornerstone of a free and Democratic society ... These violations shall be given serious treatment by the Office of the District Attorney,'' District Attorney Jim Hardin wrote in a prepared statement on Monday.

Hardin declined further comment on the case.

The indictment said Jerry Winegarden assisted his son ``in attempting to escape and in escaping detection, arrest, and punishment by allowing and assisting Benjamin David Winegarden to vote in a general election even though the defendant knew he was only 14 years of age... and in withholding their identities from the authorities investigating this voter fraud despite releasing their identities to selected media representatives.''

Jerry Winegarden, a computer specialist in Duke University's Office of Information, was released Monday on $2,000 unsecured bond and is expected to make his first appearance in court on Thursday, when a judge will set a hearing date.

Ben Winegarden, a freshman at Hillside High School, still didn't seem to be taking the possibility of voter fraud charges seriously before Monday.

``He's been carrying his `Get Out of Jail Free' card (from the board game Monopoly) around with him,'' said his 16-year-old brother Joey Winegarden. ``He forgot his wallet today, though.''

A deputy picked up the boy in front of his house on Monday afternoon.

State law does not require residents to show any identification when registering to vote. Applicants sign a statement swearing they will be at least 18 years old by the election and stating that they live where they say they do. Falsifying voter registration information is a felony, punishable by up to five years in jail, a fine or both.

The county elections board, which decided to turn the case over to the district attorney for prosecution, has already challenged the boy's registration.

Ben's admissions to the Durham newspaper drew national attention to the case, but the newspaper had kept his identity confidential until his arrest on Monday.

The newspaper reported last month that both David Lettermen and Jay Leno were interested in having Ben appear on their shows, but that he feared an appearance might trigger his arrest.

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