Convicted felon Patrick Cannon vote stirs up trouble

RAW: Pat McCrory speaks out about Cannon voting
Published: Nov. 4, 2014 at 10:17 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 4, 2014 at 10:17 PM EST
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CHARLOTTE, NC (Michael Gordon/The Charlotte Observer) - Two weeks after he lost his right to vote, former Charlotte mayor and convicted felon Patrick Cannon apparently cast a ballot.

That vote, which was officially challenged Tuesday night, would violate Cannon's bond and could put him back before a judge, said Greg Forrest, chief of the U.S. Probation Office in Charlotte.

It may even mean the 47-year-old Democrat goes to prison sooner.

"Let's cut to the chase: He shouldn't have done that, and we're going to talk to him tomorrow (Wednesday)," Forrest told the Observer.

Forrest said he will also report the violation to U.S. District Court Judge Frank Whitney, who on Oct. 14 sentenced Cannon to 44 months in prison. Whitney allowed Cannon to remain free on bond until he is ordered to report to an undisclosed federal prison. Cannon is expected to enter prison later this month.

Whitney said Tuesday he could not comment on anything specific to Cannon's case.

Forrest, however, said Whitney could order Cannon's immediate incarceration.

According to Forrest, Cannon 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 on Oct. 14, when he was sentenced, or the next day when Whitney's sentence officially became part of the court record, Forrest said.

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

Those records indicate that Cannon cast an early ballot on Oct. 30. His wife, Trenna Cannon, voted at the same time.

Cannon's vote was not counted Tuesday night after election officials at the former mayor's home precinct filed a formal challenge. The county's Board of Elections will decide within 10 days whether the ballot will be thrown out or added to the county's final tally.

Michael Dickerson, the county's election director, said Tuesday he cannot remove the name of a felon convicted in federal court until he receives notification from the U.S. Attorney's Office. He said he had not received the notice as of Tuesday.

Dickerson said Cannon voted at Elon Park, one of the county's early voting sites.

U.S. Attorney Anne Tompkins' office files the names of disenfranchised voters with the state once a quarter. Cannon's will be in the fourth-quarter report, which 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."

Cannon was arrested in March. He pleaded guilty to accepting more than $50,000 in bribes from undercover FBI agents and Charlotte strip club owner David "Slim" Baucom.

In February, Cannon accepted a $20,000 bribe in the mayor's office and, according to an FBI affidavit, solicited more than $1 million in kickbacks. He had been an FBI target since 2010.

A phone call Tuesday to James Ferguson, Cannon's attorney, was not immediately returned.

UNC law school Dean Richard Myers, a former federal prosecutor, said he would be "terribly surprised" if Cannon had not been informed at least three times that he had lost his right to vote: "Once by the judge who took his plea, once by his probation officer and once by his attorney. Good lawyers are supposed to tell their clients that," Myers said.

"Besides, this is an issue that every African-American politician in the United State knows about independently," Myers said, because so many people in the black community are disenfranchised by felony convictions.

Myers, who worked for Whitney when the Charlotte judge was a U.S. Attorney in Raleigh, said Cannon's vote could clearly "accelerate the time when he will report to prison."

In the meantime, Myers predicted it will become a popular anecdote in North Carolina's debate about voter fraud.

"This story is a talking point," he said.