Racism charges baseless say local, state leaders

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 28, 2005

Recent remarks by Hale County-based state Senator Bobby Singleton accusing several organizations and individuals of racism were met Friday with predictably strong rebuttals.

“There is a certain element of the population that will always squeal ‘racism’ when they get nervous,” said Perry Beasley, co-chairman of the Democracy Defense League, a recently formed anti-voting-crime organization based in Hale County. Singleton said Friday afternoon that the group was motivated by racism, and was trying to “use” its African-American members, like former Greensboro mayoral candidate Vanessa Hill, as a tool against Hale’s African-American community.

“I’ll give you the same statement I’ve given any media who have asked us about his comments,” Beasley said. “Membership in the DDL is open to anybody who is serious about helping eliminate voter fraud. If that equates to racism in somebody’s mind, that should tell your readers volumes about that person.”

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“The right to vote, and our right to have votes,” Beasley said, has been paid for wit hthe blood of American patriots. We are tired of manipulation. One vote, counted one time. That’s the beginning and end of what we’re about. We are nonpartisan. We have Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, and independents. There is nothing secretive about us.”

Hill denied in a brief interview Friday that the DDL had any hidden racist agenda. When told that Singleton viewed her as a tool for further black oppression, Hill responded with laughter.

“The people who are oppressing black people in Hale County,” she said, “are other black people.”

Comments by Singleton made last week and reiterated Friday suggested that the state Attorney General, Troy King, had ignored recent requests by black voters for a meeting similar meeting to the one King held with DDL members on the 12th of February. Chris Bench in the Attorney General’s office said Friday that this was not the case.

“We are not familiar with any such request,” he said. “I checked with the Attorney General. I checked with the Attorney General’s secretary. I checked with the deputy Attorney General. I checked with the deputy Attorney General’s secretary. We have no record of any requests. If such a request has been made, it has not made it through to us.”

Bench added that King would be more than willing to receive any such request should it be offered.

“He will be happy to meet with anyone who asks,” Bench said. “He is completely committed to solving any voter fraud problems and has met with everybody who has requested a meeting.”

Singleton had implied in earlier comments that Beasley’s former role as an investigator with the Alabama Bureau of Investigation had played a role in King granting the DDL an audience. Bench unequivocally denied this.

“[It makes] Zero difference,” he said. “Absolutely none. The AG considers every citizen as his boss. No one is more important than anyone else. If they’re rich, poor, black, white…zero difference.”

For his part, Beasley denied that he had any substantial ties to the AG’s office.

“I never worked for them,” he said. “Our only relationship is that I would present a case for them, and they would prosecute it. End of story.”

Leland Avery, Hale County Probate Judge and DDL member, was also a focus of Singleton’s ire. Singleton was recently temporarily removed from the Senate because his election had not been certified, a fiasco he has blamed on Avery’s support for his opponents. Avery, however, said Friday it was simply a case of accidents and happenstance.

“This was certainly not done intentionally,” he said. “I don’t think anybody’s to blame in this situation.”

The situation began, Avery said, when Hale Circuit Clerk Gay Nell Tinker failed to deliver a list of absentee ballot applicants to the Newbern polling precinct. Without the list, poll workers could not verify that voters had not already voted absentee, and many voted on a provisional ballot.

Provisional ballots have to be checked against “a log of where absentee ballots have been mailed and where and when they were returned,” as to prevent double-voting, Avery said. According to Avery, that log was scheduled to be provided to the Board of Registrars by Tinker the Wednesday after the election, but was instead not delivered until Friday.

Because of the delay in verifying the provisional ballots, when Avery and Hale Sheriff Larry Johnson got together, “ready to act,” on the Tuesday following the election, they did not have the ballots they were scheduled to count. The ballots did not arrive from the Board of Registrars, Avery said, until the following Friday.

According to Avery, the uncertainty caused by the delay led to Tinker “taking the provisional ballots to the Sheriff’s office. She told the clerks in the Sheriff’s office to tell the Sheriff that the provisional ballots were in the back room. The clerks never told the Sheriff the ballots were in that back room. No one knew where they were.”

When officials from Montgomery called and asked for certification on the 14th of February, the ballots had yet to be found. Once they had been recovered, Avery, Johnson, and Tinker met to sign off on the results, and runners from Montgomery and Greensboro met on the 15th in Selma to certify the election.

While Avery cites the “miscommunication” in the Sheriff’s office as an obvious major factor, he also says that the entire mishap could have been avoided if Tinker had provided the Newbern precinct with an absentee list on time.

“When it all boils down, it’s her fault that provisional ballots even had to be used,” he said. “If [Singleton] needs to blame somebody, he can blame her.”