Cry for fair elections heard

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 14, 2005

Before the leaders of Hale County’s Democracy Defense League had even formed the organization, one of the first goals they set in their fight against voter fraud was to get an audience with Alabama Attorney General Troy King. Friday afternoon in Tuscaloosa, that goal became a reality.

“The meeting was very productive,” said King. “I am always glad to see people concerned with the quality of government, and that of course is tied to the quality of elections. I hope I am always accessible to the people of Alabama.”

According to a press release issued by the League Friday afternoon, the “productive” feeling was mutual.

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“The Democracy Defense League was positively encouraged by Mr. King’s stated commitment to pursue voter fraud prosecution,” the statement read in part. “Mr. King stated that he was a ‘willing partner’ in the eradication of voter fraud–and that he was a man of his word…The Democracy Defense League has accomplished its first goal by bringing its concerns for fair elections to the highest law enforcement officer in Alabama.”

During the meeting, League members emphasized “the importance of necessary legislative measures to enhance the penalties” for committing voter fraud, according to the press release. This would be in conjunction with the League’s official mission statement, which calls for voter fraud to become a class “A” rather than class “C” felony.

The topic of voter identification has also been a sore spot according to League leaders, and Friday’s meeting gave both sides the opportunity to discuss a solution.

“Mr. King agreed with the League’s position in working for a realistic voter identification law,” the League’s statement says. “He further related that Georgia had passed a voter photograph identification law, and that contrary to predictions by opponents of the bill, elections have reflected an increased voter turn-out.”

Whether such legislation becomes reality–and more importantly, whether King’s office follows through on his promises to investigate the Black Belt’s fraud allegations–will likely determine if League members remain satisfied with the Friday conference. Members had previously expressed a measure of frustration with the lack of contact from King’s office during the League’s embryonic stages, but King said there may have been some “confusion in the timelines” leading up to the meeting.

“There may be the perception that our meeting was somehow a response to pressure that has been brought to bear [on the A.G.’s office],” King said. “The only letter I received from their group was a letter from Perry Beasley telling me they would be asking for a meeting soon, which I immediately responded to.”

This would seem to contradict statements made by League secretary Beverly Bonds at the League’s initial meeting January 27th, where she informed the new members King had been sent multiple letters, one of which included a petition to meet with him. They had not received a response at that time.

King strongly disavowed the notion, however, that he had been slow to respond to the group’s request for an audience.

“Tell whoever wants to that I’d be glad to meet with them. I want to,” he said. “I took an oath to uphold and defend our constitutions. Mine is not a new interest in fighting voting crime. I ran for Secretary of State in 2002 because it’s something that matters to me. It’s not something I’m new to the table or issue on. I have had these concerns, and believed I had to do something about them. That’s why I ran. And now that I have been appointed Attorney General, I have even more authority to do something.”

King declined to offer specifics, however, of how he and his office will “do something” in the Black Belt.

“We cannot comment on whether we have or will have an investigation in an area,” he said. “But whenever someone presents concerns, we take those very seriously and we treat them appropriately.”

That he was able to speak to the League face-to-face, rather through written correspondence, lent credibility to his assurances, King said.

“I was glad for the opportunity to reassure them that this office cares as much about the quality of elections as they do,” he said. “That’s why we spent an afternoon in Tuscaloosa exchanging information. Anybody in Alabama who believes they have a complaint or allegations I need to hear has a similar invitation.”

That the Democracy Defense League was already prepared for their invitation speaks to the anger over the issue held by residents of Hale County. The League’s first organized meeting, in a basement room of Greensboro’s Citizens Bank, was only 15 days ago and drew a standing-room-only crowd. Since then they have moved quickly, organizing a meeting in Moundville’s Town Hall set for the 17th, gaining the audience with King, garnering media attention, and extending their range of contacts into Perry County and beyond.

The long-held suspicion of voter fraud in Hale County intensified in recent months with the controversial election of J.B. Washington to the Greensboro’s mayor’s seat and the closely contested run-off for State Senate won by Bobby Singleton. Eyebrows were raised after both elections, both over the large number of absentee ballots cast and the decisive edge enjoyed by both victors–Singleton took 1033 votes to his opponent’s 21–in the Hale absentee box.