Turner: Student claim of vote change is untrue

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 23, 2005

MARION–Albert Turner Jr. wants to set the record straight on recent reports that a woman took a Marion high school student’s ballot and cast it in Turner’s name during the May 3 House District 72 special election. It’s a record, he says, that from where he sits looks awfully crooked.

“The Perry County Civic League has launched an investigation into this incident,” Turner said Thursday, referring to the organization which he serves as President, “and asks the Perry County Sheriff’s office and the DA’s office to investigate a possible filing of a false police report on the part of Ms. Davis. We believe someone has coerced or given money to Ms. Davis to make a false police report.”

Cynthia Davis, a student at Francis Marion High School, has filed a police report and signed a sworn legal affidavit stating that when she arrived at the polls May 3, a woman wearing a Turner t-shirt watched Davis fill out her ballot. When Davis marked it for Turner opponent Ralph Howard, she says, the woman took the ballot, acquired a new one from a polling official, and cast it for Turner in Davis’s name.

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Turner said that Davis’s story is simply not true.

“We have interviewed the polling official Ms Davis names in her statement, who has said that Ms. Davis’s account is not accurate. We have interviewed the lady in question that some newspapers have identified, and she has said that the account is not accurate,” Turner said. “These false allegations should be investigated.”

Turner also pointed out that the Marion Police Department has yet to act in the case, and added that Davis has not yet filed a complaint with the Perry County Sheriff’s office, which has jurisdiction in the case.

“This leads me to believe,” he says, “that something fishy is going on.”

The seriousness of the allegations, Turner says, is what appalls him most.

“We detest voter fraud of any kind. We also detest anyone who fabricates allegations of voter fraud,” he says. “Anyone who coerced Ms. Davis into filing such a false claim is guilty of conspiracy. We vigorously encourage the prosecution of whoever fabricated this incident.”

Davis’s affidavit–signed in the presence of two members of anti-voting fraud group the Democracy Defense League, including one serving as a notary public–included the names she believed belonged to the woman and the polling official. Turner said that two newspapers (neither of which is the Times) have used the woman’s name, a misrepresentation he says is slanderous.

“She is a citizen, not a public official, who has done nothing to be dragged through the mud like she has been,” he says. “She has an attorney and she is going to file suit against these newspapers.”

Turner neither bears any legal responsibility for the woman’s actions nor violated any law by transporting students to the polls. Nonetheless, Turner says, the reports have been part of an ongoing effort to discredit him. Factual stories concerning him aren’t an issue, he says, but these aren’t factual.

“As a public official, I accept [truthful stories]. But I am not going to idly stand by while people make these false claims,” he says. “This is a fictitious story. The real story is a story of slander, and of perjury…I am about tired of people continuing to connect my name with fabricated allegations.”

He further says that he committed no violations of any kind during the transportation of Davis and other students.

“These students volunteered. No one forced them to go. Some did not go. Some said they wanted to go now, some said they had rides later,” he says. “There was no force or coercion. There was no discussion of who to vote for. This was a civic exercise we have done several times before.”

Turner also wanted to set the record straight on a statement he said had been made by a Marion police officer that the woman’s actions constituted a felony theft. The act wouldn’t have qualified as “theft” anyway, Turner said.

“This is a civil rights violation, not a property theft,” he said. “Anyone in journalism or law enforcement should have known better than to make such a hare-brained statement.”

Turner also expressed his displeasure with the Democracy Defense League for their recent public criticism of the high percentage of absentee ballots cast in the special election, saying that they have attacked candidates for doing nothing more than trying to influence the outcome of an election.

“Absentee voting does not constitute voting fraud. One man, one vote, one vote, one man, whether absentee or in person. Campaigning is all about influencing people to vote,” he says. “According to the Defense League, every political organization has violated voting fraud. Every politician worth his salt is going to try to sway people’s votes. No one just wakes up in the morning and says ‘I think I’ll go vote.’ The Defense League has tried to influence an election… They are trying to influence people’s minds that one side in the election is committing voter fraud. By their own standards, they are committing voter fraud.

“On the real voting fraud case being investigated in Marion, a case we are vigorously trying to get prosecuted, the Defense League has said nothing,” Turner continued, referring to the August mayor’s race between Robert Bryant and current mayor Anthony J. Long. “People have moved voters into town…there is evidence of multiple residents voting from abandoned houses no one could live in. We’ve heard zero from the Defense League on anybody.”

Perry Beasley, co-chairman of the DDL, said Friday that he was unaware of the high absentee numbers from the Marion mayor’s election. When told of the percentages from that race, he said he was glad the election had been contested.

“I think it’s proper to make that inquiry,” he said. “If there’s no fraud, great. If there has been, someone needs to go to jail for it.”

Beasley added that virtually any time absentee numbers for one candidate rise above the state average of 2 to 8 percent, they should be viewed with distrust.

“When an absentee rate is much higher than normal, it makes it suspicious enough to justify an inquiry into fraud. Our organization is not against absentee voting. But absentee ballots are the easiest way to illegally manipulate an election,” he said. “If nothing else, it deserves legal scrutiny. That’s all we’re saying. Nothing more than that a legitimate inquiry needs to be made.”

Attempts to contact Davis for comment on this story were unsuccessful, and an official in the Perry County Sheriff’s office could not confirm Friday whether Davis had filed a report with that office or not.

Perry County District Attorney Michael Jackson said Friday that he had not spoken to Turner and had not received any information regarding the possibility of coercion on the part of Davis. He added that his office would continue looking into Davis’s allegations.

If Jackson looks hard enough, Turner says, he’ll find that allegations are all he’ll find.

“I don’t have a problem with news stories about me,” Turner said. “People can make up their own minds. I do have a problem with fabrications that slander public officials or private citizens who go out and help with the polls.”