RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Four North Carolina voters sued a political activist for libel Wednesday, claiming he falsely accused them of voting illegally last November because they were felons or had voted in other states.
The lawsuit filed in Greensboro by the liberal Southern Coalition for Social Justice contends William Clark Porter's false characterizations of improper voting led the four plaintiffs to face "ridicule, contempt or disgrace." Porter didn't respond to telephone or email messages seeking comment.
"We want to send the message loud and clear that it is wrong to intimidate voters by accusing them of committing a crime without having any evidence to support the claim," coalition attorney Allison Riggs said in a statement.
It may be among the first voter defamation cases of its kind, said Lloyd Leonard of the Washington, D.C.-based League of Women Voters and Candice Hoke, an election law professor at Cleveland State University.
"This is the first time we have heard of someone wrongfully accused of voting illegally sue to set the record straight," Leonard, the group's senior advocacy director, wrote in an email. "People should not get away with lying about voter fraud."
State records show Porter filed three of the 55 post-election challenges by Republicans and their allies as then-Gov. Pat McCrory fought a losing battle to overcome an Election Day deficit. "With each passing day, we discover more and more cases of voting fraud and irregularities," McCrory campaign manager Russell Peck said nine days after the November ballot.
But nearly all of the protests were subsequently dismissed or sidelined by majority-Republican elections boards because the contested votes were too few to overturn election results. McCrory conceded almost a month later to Democrat Roy Cooper, who took office in January.
State Senate leader Phil Berger indicated legislators could re-examine elections laws this year, saying the 2016 election raised concerns about the "potential for fraud."
Porter's complaints had named one dead person he said voted, nine voters he alleged cast ballots in other states, and eight felons who he said voted. The four plaintiffs said Porter was wrong when he identified them.
One of the plaintiffs, Louis Bouvier of Greensboro, said he has voted in North Carolina since 1988 yet was accused of voting in two states.
"My son and I share a name. That's likely why someone accused me of voting in two states," Bouvier said in a statement. "But it's a sorry state of affairs when someone can accuse you of a crime without properly vetting or researching the facts."
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