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Re: New York Daily News: July 23, 2003: Voting isn't a crime

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The Indians of Manhattan

Posted by Julia Akhter on 05:26:25 01/29/05

In Reply to: New York Daily News: July 23, 2003: Voting isn't a crime posted by GET NY

: Voting isn't a crime
: New York Daily News
: July 23, 2003
: Raise your head above the political hedgerows in Brooklyn, and you're liable to get it shot off. Figuratively speaking, of course. But figurative doesn't mean painless. Just ask John O'Hara, the only American since Susan B. Anthony to be prosecuted for voting once in an election. He's paying an excruciating price.
: This bizarre tale started when O'Hara challenged the Brooklyn Democratic machine by fielding a few insurgent candidates for various offices. The response was a politically motivated indictment and three trials. The charge: False registration and illegal voting, according to District Attorney Joe Hynes.
: O'Hara committed the supposed crime of voting from his girlfriend's address - where he was living at the time - instead of his own. But voting cannot be criminalized, even in Brooklyn, and the state courts erred grievously in allowing this farce to proceed all the way up to a split state Court of Appeals. O'Hara, once a licensed lawyer, is now a disbarred, convicted felon.
: The U.S. Supreme Court ruled this year that federal judges must not defer to state courts and should examine state criminal matters much more closely.
: The federal appeals court in Manhattan now has the chance to right a grievous wrong. The judges are expected to decide soon whether to hear O'Hara's case. In the interest of justice, they must grant a hearing. If any matter demanded federal intervention and examination, it's this one.

John O'Hara
O'hara can not vote

Someone must have been telling lies about Joseph K.,
for without having

done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning.
Thus begins Franz

Kafka's classic novel, The Trial. It is a tale of
tragic horror, a

nightmare vision of the excesses of modern
bureaucracy. O'Hara, a man

whose dilemma resembles that of Joseph K. One morning
in 1996 Mr. O'Hara

was arrested and then prosecuted for exercising our
most fundamental

right, the right to vote. John O'Hara, an attorney,
political activist,

and former candidate, had always been proud that he
had never failed to

vote in a single election since he came of the legal
age of eighteen. In

1992 he changed his voting address from his own
apartment on 61st Street

in Brooklyn to an apartment on 47th Street where he
often stayed with his

former girlfriend. In various elections in 1992 and
1993 he voted from the

47th Street address five times. For this alleged
crime he was convicted of

seven felony counts of illegal voting and false
registration, disbarred as

an attorney, fined twenty thousand dollars, and faced
up to twenty eight

years in prison. To this day he does community
service, cleaning up

garbage in a Brooklyn Park where he once campaigned
for office. Since many

people in the political class maintain multiple
residences, one must ask

the question, Why was Mr. O'Hara singled out for such
torment? He did not

vote twice in the same day, and he was not charged
with voting from a

false residence, but that his ex-girlfriends house
was not his

principal and permanent residence. In fact, Mr.
O'Hara has lived in the

same neighborhood in Brooklyn his entire life.
Indeed, careful research

reveals that the last person to be convicted of
illegal voting in New York

was in 1873. The defendant in that case was Susan B.
Anthony. The answer

is simple. Mr. O'Hara had long been a fierce and
vocal critic of the

Brooklyn political machine and District Attorney
Charles Hynes. It took

the prosecutor three trials and four appeals ending
in a split decision to

get the verdict he wanted. Part of the problem was
that New York's arcane

election laws are unclear in their definition of
residency. Judge Albert

Rosenblatt of the Court of Appeals wrote in his stern
dissent against the

conviction of Mr. O'Hara that the case was
politically charged, and that

if issues of residency are to be resolved in the
criminal arena, with the

possibility of conviction and incarceration, we
should ensure that the

definition of residence is plainly fixed and easily
understood. He noted

that the same court had found an Albany lawyer, John
Holt-Harris, to be in

compliance with residency laws in a civil proceeding,
when he ran for a

city judgeship from an address where he recalled
eating and sleeping only

once in seven years. Although Mr. O'Hara had never
been accused of any

crime prior to his arrest, he had been a frequent
candidate for office

battling the political establishment. In reality, Mr.
O'Hara's true crime

was that he ran for office and lost. It is no small
coincidence that the

morning of his arrest he was on his way to federal
court to testify

against the party machine for election fraud. As the
usually reserved New

York Law Journal noted in a recent article about the
case, is this what

has become of our electoral process the winners
take office and the

losers go to jail or is this just an unheard of
criminal prosecution

against a political activist who refused to bow to
the crown. In the

current political climate, everyone often risk
ridicule when they make

political statements, but we are citizens and this is
a serious situation

when a country starts locking people up for voting.
At a time when our

leaders are waxing patriotic, perhaps we should first
ensure that our

citizens have the freedom to exercise their basic
rights under the law.

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