BY CHERYLYN HARLEY LEBON
A New Visions Commentary
After he has made such a spectacle of himself in professing that voter protection laws are unnecessary, it was unsettling for Al Sharpton to publicly hug a convicted perpetrator of vote fraud at a public event.
Yet, there was Sharpton — hugging Melowese Richardson on March 20.
At a rally promoting a referendum to amend the Ohio state constitution to make it easier to register to vote, expand valid identification and guaranteed early voting, he didn’t run away from Richardson, who recently served eight months behind bars for voting multiple times. She effectively stole the votes of innocent, law-abiding Americans.
Have you no shame, Reverend Al?!
The case against Melowese Richardson couldn’t be more open and shut. She admitted to vote fraud on a local Cincinnati television broadcast. “Yes, I voted twice,” she declared on WCPO-TV in February of 2013. The longtime poll worker, who originally voted by absentee ballot, was afraid it might have been mailed too late. So she voted again on Election Day.
Richardson also “absolutely voted an absentee ballot” for her granddaughter. When the granddaughter was found to have voted twice, Richardson speculated that the granddaughter forgot grandma already voted for her. Then there was Montez Richardson, her sister. Richardson voted for her sister, although her sister has been in a coma since 2003.
Richardson claimed what she did resulted in “absolutely legal votes” and said at the time she would fight the allegations against her as part of an apparently larger struggle “for Mr. Obama’s right to sit as President of the United States.”
Richardson ended up pleading no contest to vote fraud and was sentenced to five years in prison. The plea deal contained her admission that she voted on behalf of her comatose sister in 2008, 2011 and 2012.
When Richardson went to prison, Sharpton’s National Action Network knew her case. They didn’t condemn her actions, but protested her punishment. NAN’s Greater Cincinnati Chapter issued a statement saying it was “deeply concerned and frankly appalled” by the judge’s sentence.
NAN claimed Richardson was “being used as a pawn in a political game to attempt to further the agenda of those who are trying to enact voter suppression legislation through the use of false hysteria around unproven and non-existent mass voter fraud.”
But the NAN statement also notes there were three cases of known voter fraud in Hamilton County, Ohio during the 2012 election. The problem, as NAN saw it, was that only Richardson was sentenced to prison (for four counts of fraud) while the other two cases (one count each) resulted in lesser punishment. And the other two offenders are white while Richardson is black.
The Ohio Justice and Policy Center successfully appealed the sentence, claiming Richardson suffers from bipolar disorder — a never-before-mentioned complication. Her sentence was subsequently reduced to five years probation.
About a week after her release, Richardson was on the stage at the voting rights rally and getting a hug from Al Sharpton.
Naturally, county Republicans criticized the Richardson’s inclusion at the event. But Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Tim Burke also called it “particularly problematic.” Bobby Hilton, the president of NAN’s Greater Cincinnati Chapter, in desperate spin mode, tried to deflect the bipartisan outrage by telling the Cincinnati Enquirer: “We did not celebrate or applaud a convicted felon. We congratulated a lady with health issues coming home to take care of her sick sister.”
If that’s true, isn’t there a health care event at which Richardson could be celebrated?
To even acknowledge someone convicted of vote fraud among the crowd at such an event is unseemly. Bringing that person up to share the stage with distinguished guests — and for one of the leading critics of polling place protections to hug them — is just plain wrong.
In January, on his “PoliticsNation” program on MSNBC, Sharpton likened voter ID to a poll tax and claimed its supporters “have not been able to come up with any widespread fraud in any of the states that are passing these laws.”
To the contrary, Al, you’ve embraced the problem.
Cherylyn Harley LeBon is co-chairman of the Project 21 black leadership network