Crime & Courts

DA won’t prosecute woman who followed mom’s ‘dying wish’ and cast illegal vote for Trump

A state prosecutor said he will not bring voter-fraud charges against a Catawba County woman who said she cast an illegal vote for Donald Trump last year to fulfill her mother’s dying wish.

District Attorney David Learner, chief prosecutor for Catawba, Burke and Caldwell counties, announced his decision Wednesday not to pursue the case, which had been referred to him by the State Board of Elections.

Learner, a Republican, withheld the name of the voter but said she had cast the improper vote for Trump last November “out of sheer ignorance” of the law and while “grieving the loss of her mother.”

“This woman is 67 years old and has never run afoul of the law for anything more serious than a speeding ticket,” Learner said in a statement. “It is not in the public’s interest to charge her with this felony offense.”

Trump in Hickory
A state prosecutor said he won’t bring voter-fraud charges against a Catawba County woman who says she was following her mother’s dying wish when she cast an illegal vote for Donald Trump – shown here during a March 2016 campaign stop in Hickory. Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer

According to Learner’s office, here’s what happened:

The voter said her 89-year-old mother was an enthusiastic Trump supporter who felt the Republican presidential candidate could “save our country.” The mother donated to Trump’s campaign and stayed glued to Fox News to watch his debates and follow the presidential election.

The mother also suffered from a serious heart condition. In late October, the daughter says she asked her mother to fill out an absentee voter request – just in case her health kept her from making it to the polls in November. The mother agreed, but added: “If anything happens to me, you have my power of attorney, and you be sure to vote for Donald Trump.”

The next day the mother suffered a massive stroke and died three days later, her daughter said, in a statement included in Learner’s release.

On Nov. 3, with her mother’s words still ringing in her ears, the daughter says she took the power of attorney – “which no one asked for” – to an early voting site in Catawba County and cast a Trump vote in her mother’s name.

“It was the last thing I could do for her, and I felt excited to do that for her,” the woman said.

It was also against the law.

The debate over voting fraud remains a simmering issue – in North Carolina and beyond. But overwhelmingly the allegations, which election officials from both parties say are unfounded, have been directed at Democrats, not Trump voters.

Before and after Election Day, Trump charged, without proof, that millions of illegal votes were cast on behalf of his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.

In the North Carolina gubernatorial race, incumbent Republican Pat McCrory demanded recounts in several counties after intimating that illegal Democratic votes had contributed to the narrow victory of Democrat Roy Cooper.

Last week, the State Board of Elections announced that out of some 4.8 million votes cast, 508 were illegal. Those included two ballots cast by voters on behalf of dead family members.

Which brings us back to Catawba County.

In her statement, the daughter said her actions “were in no way intended to be fraudulent but were done during my grief and (in) an effort to honor my mother’s last request.”

She added: “And I knew that one vote from this 89-year-old lady would not affect the outcome of the election anyway.”

Legalities aside, she has a point. Trump carried Catawba County with almost 70 percent of the vote.

Learner said he reviewed the case file and decided not to prosecute. He said his decision was nonpartisan.

“It makes no difference who the vote was cast for,” he said in his statement. “This office consistently demonstrates compassion in dealing with first-time, non-violent offenders.

“She made a mistake out of sheer ignorance without any intent to defraud or commit a crime. She was grieving the loss of her mother and believed that the power of attorney allowed her to cast this vote.”

Michael Gordon: 704-358-5095, @MikeGordonOBS

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