Disenfranchised citizens want ear of Attorney General

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 31, 2005

GREENSBORO – When Perry Beasley, Beverly Bonds and other concerned Hale County citizens decided to form a group to fight the county’s alleged voter fraud, they expected there to be some interest from angry residents. They may have underestimated how much interest and anger there would be.

More than 110 Hale County residents packed the bottom-floor meeting room of Greensboro’s Citizens Bank Thursday night, voicing their support for the elimination of voter fraud and establishing an organization known as the Democracy Defense League.

“We’re obviously glad to see a standing-room only crowd,” said Beasley, a former Alabama Bureau of Investigation officer who serves as the fledgling organization’s co-chairman. “It’s a good start. But we had many, many people tell us they would have been here if not for other commitments, Sunday school and things like that, so it could have been more.”

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The League’s goals, according to a mission statement approved by those in attendance, are to encourage the investigation and prosecution of voting-related crimes; to establish voting-related crimes as “class A” felonies; and to “facilitate public awareness of the consequences voting fraud imposes upon communities and all levels of government, as well as democracy itself.”

Beasley told the League’s members that those goals will not be accomplished by staying silent, or staying local. “We are not going to win the fight against voter fraud in the Black Belt by staying here in the Black Belt,” he said. “The battlefield for this fight will be in Montgomery. And that’s where we intend to go, and that’s where we have to make our voices heard…it will be hard, and it will be long, but that’s the only way I’m aware of to get this thing accomplished.”

The specific Montgomery office the League has on its mind is that of Troy King, the state attorney general, who would be responsible for prosecuting those charged with voter fraud. But according to Bonds, a recent letter seeking an audience with King had not been responded to as of Thursday, and Beasley said previous offers to assist King in Hale County had been met with silence.

Despite this, Beasley does feel some sympathy for King. “The state laws as written make it hard for prosecuting voter fraud to be worthwhile,” he said. “We know they only have so much time, and we know they have a budget.”

With the League’s help, though, Beasley said this could change. “Our job is to create public demand, to raise pressure not just here but in other parts of the state,” he said. “We have to associate in people’s minds that voter fraud equals disenfranchisement. We have to let people know that this is a crime against democracy itself.”

That sentiment was strongly endorsed by the crowd, which while being majority white did include a number of African-Americans. The most prominent of these was Vanessa Hill, former Greensboro mayoral candidate, who made clear that her involvement was for reasons larger than the controversial mayor’s election. “This meeting is not about me,” she said. “This meeting is about everyone, about Hale County and the whole Black Belt, about cleaning things up and making this a better place to live.”

Beasley also spoke at length on the need for the League to remain politically nonpartisan. “If we can be labeled as partisan,” he warned, “when we go to Montgomery we’re dead.”

Because voter fraud is, according to Beasley, “not just a Hale County problem, but all over the Black Belt,” the League’s next move is to take their effort area-wide with a meeting in Moundville in the near future.

“Help is not going to just come in from outside,” Beasley told the group. “We have waited long enough. We can do nothing and accept things as they are, or we can start making a difference ourselves.”