The morning after suffering a miscarriage in July, Lanisha Bratcher came face-to-face with yet another cruel reality of being black in America.
Police barged into her North Carolina home “like the Dukes of Hazzard” and according to the Guardian, she was informed that despite the unspeakable loss that she was still processing, there was a warrant out for her arrest.
Her crime? Voting in the 2016 presidential election.
As it turns out, Bratcher was convicted of assault in 2013 and was on probation at the time she voted. North Carolina law states that convicted felons are only allowed to vote once after completing their sentence—including probation or parole. And because Bratcher had no idea that she had been stripped of her right to vote, she now faces up to 19 months in prison.
“I had no intention to trick anybody or be malicious or any kind of way,” Bratcher said. “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.”
If this sounds like some blatant Jim Crow-era bullshit, that’s exactly what her lawyer is accusing the state of.
“A law that is intended to racially discriminate against a group is unconstitutional,”
John Carella, Bratcher’s lawyer, said. “We also know it continues to work that way in its modern application to the 2016 election.”
From the Guardian:
Documents obtained by the Guardian show that a prosecutor brought charges against Bratcher even though state officials said she may have illegally voted unintentionally. The decision also came after a report in which state officials recognized there were serious problems in the system in place to inform convicted felons of their voting rights.
The state’s policy of banning people convicted of felonies from voting is rooted in a late 19th century effort by North Carolina Democrats to limit voting power of newly-enfranchised African Americans as a whole. In 1898, the North Carolina Democratic party spoke of the need “to rescue the white people of the east from the curse of negro domination”.
It gets better. The Guardian continues:
If someone votes while they are serving a criminal sentence, it is a so-called “strict liability” felony in North Carolina. That means that prosecutors don’t have to prove Bratcher and other people convicted of felonies intended to vote illegally in order to convict them.
This statute was designed after the Civil War as a reaction to growing African American political power in the state, said Gary Freeze, a history and American studies professor at Catawba College in North Carolina.
“White supremacists did not want [another] reform effort – hence the severe penalty for those who could be proven to be voting with a criminal background,” he wrote in an email.
Throughout the years, North Carolina lawmakers have made modifications to the law, but the removal of voting rights from felons while they complete their criminal sentences—the vast majority of whom are black—remains unchanged.
Carella believes that with North Carolina playing such a key role in the upcoming 2020 election, laws such as these are kept in place to discourage black people from voting. And in making an example out of Bratcher, it would appear to be a success.
“It seems really dangerous,” Bratcher said, confirming her reluctance to ever vote again.