Former Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon to be in court Thursday over voting

Patrick Cannon is scheduled to report to a West Virginia prison on Nov. 18.

But on Thursday, a federal judge must decide if the former Charlotte mayor and convicted felon becomes an inmate two weeks early.

Three weeks after he was sentenced to prison on a corruption charge, Cannon will be back in federal court at noon Thursday, this time to explain to U.S. District Judge Frank Whitney why he cast a ballot in the recent election despite losing his right to vote.

Under North Carolina law, a convicted felon loses the right to vote. Casting a ballot after losing the right to do so is a felony.

The 47-year-old Democrat has been out on bond since his March arrest. He has admitted to taking more than $50,000 in bribes from undercover FBI agents and Charlotte strip club mogul David “Slim” Baucom and pleaded guilty in June.

On Oct. 14, Whitney sentenced Cannon to 44 months in federal prison, allowing the former mayor to remain free on bond until he was ordered to report.

However, Cannon’s vote on Oct. 30 violated the terms of his release, and Whitney could choose to place him in custody as soon as Thursday. If that happens, Cannon would be fingerprinted in a holding area at the federal courthouse, then led out the back door for the short trip to the Mecklenburg County Jail.

Cannon would stay there until transportation could be arranged to the Federal Correctional Institution near Beckley, W.Va., a minimum security facility 233 miles from Cannon’s south Charlotte home.

Wednesday morning, Cannon, absent his attorneys, met for more than an hour with federal probation officers to discuss his vote, chief probation officer Greg Forrest told the Observer. Cannon offered an explanation, which Forrest declined to share until they are in Whitney’s courtroom.

In the past, Whitney has ordered defendants who commit crimes while on bond to be taken into custody immediately.

In 2008, Whitney, a former U.S. attorney, sent Sallie Saxon directly to prison rather than allowing her to report because the former head of a Charlotte prostitution ring had been arrested on a shoplifting charge while under house arrest.

Now Cannon clearly faces the possibility of a similar fate.

“Let’s cut to the chase: He shouldn’t have done that, and we’re going to talk to him (Wednesday),” Forrest said Tuesday.

Cannon is still listed as an active voter on the records of the Mecklenburg Board of Elections.

According to Forrest, Cannon might have lost his voting privileges as far back as June 3, when he pleaded guilty to a corruption charge. At the very least, he lost his voting eligibility when he was sentenced on Oct. 14 or the next day when Whitney’s judgment officially became part of the court record, Forrest said.

Election records indicate Cannon and his wife, Trenna, cast early ballots on Oct. 30. County elections Director Michael Dickerson says the couple voted at Ballantyne Village, one of Mecklenburg’s early voting sites.

Cannon’s ballot was challenged Tuesday night. The county Board of Elections will meet within the next 10 days to decide whether the vote should be counted or thrown out.

Dickerson says he cannot remove the name of a felon convicted in federal court until he receives notification from the U.S. Attorney’s Office or some other official source.

Cannon, however, carries one of the city’s most recognizable names and a highly publicized criminal record. Asked Wednesday why the ex-mayor was allowed to vote, Dickerson said his election volunteers could not be expected to challenge Cannon’s ballot.

“If he’s in the system (of registered voters), the presumption is he’s still eligible,” Dickerson said. “I can’t read something in the Observer and remove his name. I need documentation, from the court or the U.S. Attorney’s Office.”

U.S. Attorney Anne Tompkins’ staff files the names of disenfranchised voters with the state Board of Elections once a quarter. Cannon’s name will be submitted at the end of the year.

In a prepared statement, the office said Cannon “was represented by counsel, knew he was convicted of a felony, was informed by the court that his conviction included the loss of some previously held rights, and had access to the information on the North Carolina State Board of Elections and Mecklenburg Board of Elections websites regarding the voting laws of North Carolina.”

Messages to Cannon’s attorneys, James Ferguson and Henderson Hill, were not returned Wednesday.

As word spread on Election Day of Cannon’s vote, Republicans – including Gov. Pat McCrory of Charlotte – used it as proof that the state needs its controversial package of new election laws, including Voter ID.

Those laws have drawn legal challenges from the federal government and other groups.

Chris Brook, legal director of the ACLU of North Carolina, described Cannon’s vote as “a small hiccup” and not proof of a systemic problem that justifies significant changes to the way the state holds elections.

“I think we need to stop, take a deep breath and ask ourselves how Mr. Cannon’s circumstances relate in any way to the early voting system that has worked very well,” Brook said.

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