Group gets meeting with AG

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 2, 2005

One of the first stated goals of the recently formed Democracy Defense League, a Hale County-based citizens’ organization devoted to fighting voter fraud in the Black Belt, was to get an audience with state Attorney General Troy King. It appears that’s one goal the League has already accomplished.

Joy Patterson, press secretary for the Attorney General, and League co-chairman Perry Beasley of Greensboro each confirmed by phone Tuesday that a meeting between King and the League has been set, although the exact date could not be released to the media.

The meeting gives the League an opportunity to put the first part of its public mission statement into practice, which calls for the “vigorous encouragement for the appropriate legal authority to investigate and prosecute voting-related crimes.”

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But Beasley stated, as he did following the League’s initial meeting last Thursday, that the relationship his organization seeks with the Attorney General’s office is one of cooperation rather than conflict. “We understand what the AG’s problems are,” he said. “There’s budgets and limited time and all of that…a voter fraud investigation takes a lot of time, a lot of legwork.”

“But with that in mind,” said Beasley, “we feel like the disenfranchisement of voters that comes with voter fraud should be on a level of higher priority than it has been in the past.”

King’s agreement to meet with the League comes on the heels of increased public attention on the allegations of Black Belt voting crime, including a recent public statement by King that an investigation into voter fraud is already underway in West Alabama. King was unavailable either Monday or Tuesday for further comment, although a spokesperson for the Attorney General’s office stated that “it is against policy to offer any comment on ongoing investigations.”

Although Beasley pointedly declined comment on the issue, recent media attention on the issue and the League may have played a role in King’s willingness to meet. King was recently quoted as saying he would be glad to grant the League an audience if they requested one. But according to statements made by League officials during the Thursday night meeting in Greensboro, at the time of King’s statement he would have already received two letters and a petition asking for a meeting, and had yet to respond to either.

Regardless of the origins of the meeting, it comes at a time when voter fraud is on the minds of many across the region. At the heart of the controversy is the high number of absentee ballots cast in many local elections. According to Beasley, the League plans on calling for legislation, also supported by the recently created Alabama Voting Integrity Project, that would trigger an automatic investigation into any election in which absentee ballots make up more than 10 percent of the total votes cast.

Several recent elections would qualify for that benchmark, including the contested Greensboro mayor’s election between Vanessa Hill and J.B. Washington, in which absentees made up almost 20% of the total; the run-off between Bobby Singleton and Thomas Moore for Senate District 24, in which Hale and Perry absentees alone made up 11% of the total vote; and the special election last Tuesday, in which the 1147 Hale County absentees by themselves come within fractions of a percentage point of 10% of all votes cast.

According to Beasley, it’s numbers like those that have given the League the impetus to succeed. “We’ve received no negative feedback so far,” he said. “Our mission is to get what’s happening across to everyone.”