WINCHESTER — A Frederick County man admitted he illegally tried to register to vote, according to police.
In 2006, Jeremiah Edward Bolen Sr. was convicted of the third or subsequent offense of driving under the influence, a felony, according to Winchester Circuit Court records. However, Bolen applied to vote on June 22 despite not having his voting rights restored, according to a criminal complaint from Derek G. Crider, a Frederick County Sheriff's Office investigator.
Crider wrote that when he questioned Bolen on July 24, Bolen first said he thought his conviction might have been reduced to a misdemeanor as part of his plea bargain. Crider told Bolen he didn't believe him and said Bolen then confessed.
"Bolen stated he was intending to vote because he does not agree with how Donald Trump is running the country," Crider wrote. "Bolen advised he knew if he indicated he has been convicted of a felony on his voter application, that he would not be permitted to vote."
Bolen, 61, of the 100 block of Scarlet Maple Drive, was arrested on Sept. 26 and charged with filing a false statement on a voter registration form. He is free on a $1,000 bond and due in Frederick General District Court at 8:30 a.m. on Oct. 19.
While President Trump has made assertions of rampant voter fraud, documented cases of in-person voter fraud and voter registration fraud are extremely rare locally and nationally. A Brennan Center for Justice study found just 45 incidents of in-person voter fraud nationally in more than 1.3 billion ballots cast between 2000-2014. Voter registration fraud is slightly more common, but cases represent a fraction of total votes cast.
For example, in the last presidential election in 2016 – presidential election years usually have the highest voter turnout — 41,112 people cast votes in Frederick County, about 10,800 in Winchester and 8,256 in Clarke County. But just a handful of voter registration complaints are referred to prosecutors by local registrars of voters annually and they rarely result in prosecutions.
Marc Abrams, Winchester commonwealth's attorney, said on Monday that his office hasn't prosecuted any in-person or voter registration fraud cases since he began working at the office in 1988. Anne Williams, Clarke County commonwealth's attorney, said she's had three cases referred to her since she took office in 2017. None were prosecuted because there was no evidence of an intent to deceive.
Williams and Ross Spicer, Frederick County commonwealth's attorney, said most referrals involve felons who haven't had their voting rights restored. They applied to vote at the Department of Motor Vehicles under the "motor-voter law." The law is designed to make it easier to register to vote and increase turnout.
Spicer said just one person has been prosecuted for in-person voter fraud since he was hired in 2008. The woman, who was a felon, was convicted in 2018.
Spicer said he gets about a dozen referrals from the county voter registrar annually involving applications by felons who haven't had their voting rights restored. He said most were eligible to have their rights restored and the investigations were dropped once their rights were restored.
"Nine times out of 10, it's clear that the person simply didn't understand what they were filling out," he said. "In order to prosecute someone, we have to prove that their misconduct was willful, and, in most instances, there is simply no evidence of that."
In some states, voting rights are automatically restored to felons once they've served their sentences. But Virginia is one of 11 states where felons who've served their sentences have to wait additional time before their voting rights are restored, such as completing parole or probation, or require the governor to restore them, or require additional action, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
At least 195,000 felons have had their voting rights restored in Virginia since 2016. Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, had given a blanket restoration to some 200,000 felons in 2016, but Republicans successfully challenged the executive order. Felons in Virginia must apply for restoration before getting their rights restored.