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Voter fraud in Perry County addressed

MARION &8212; The Marion Military Institute Chapel was full Thursday as Alabama Secretary of State Beth Chapman addressed a group of citizens, press members and members of the Democracy Defense League.

Chapman&8217;s visit to Perry County was part of a public rally on voter fraud, a topic that has come to the public eye once again in the Black Belt with recent allegations of voter fraud stemming from absentee ballots in Perry County in the June 3 primaries.

Chapman has been working closely with Attorney General Troy King&8217;s office on getting information from the public for the investigation, and vowed she would see to it that anyone associated with the illegal activity sent to jail.

In her remarks, Chapman said she wanted to help educate the public on how to vote and ensure that elections run properly. She said activities to the contrary &8212; such as buying votes &8212; are something she or anyone else should not tolerate.

A long-time advocate for making it easier for military personnel and family members to vote, Chapman made the analogy that selling a vote was like pinning a price tag on American soldiers in active duty.

In addition to reminding the audience of voting basics &8212; such as dead people cannot vote &8212; Chapman explained the details of polling places and the specific reasons a person can file an absentee ballot: if he or she will be absent from the municipality, county or state on election day; is ill or has a physical disability preventing them from going to the polling place; is a registered voter living outside the county such as a member of the armed forces, a voter employed outside the United States, a college student, or a spouse or child of such a person; is an appointed election officer or poll watcher at a polling place other than his or her regular polling place; or works a required shift of 10 hours or more that coincides with polling hours.

Chapman called absentee ballots the &8220;heart and soul of voter fraud,&8221; as is speculated to be the culprit in the results of the June 3 primary in Perry County where 4,207 of the 8,361 registered voters turned out to the polls. This represents nearly 50.3 percent of eligible voters, which is triple the turnout in nearby counties like Marengo, where about 17.7 percent of voters cast ballots.

The largest amount of those votes came from 1,114 absentee ballots cast in Perry County, compared with seven in Hale County and 14 in Crenshaw County &8212; both of which have larger populations than Perry. In Marion, the county seat, the 2004 mayor&8217;s election has still not been settled because of a protracted court challenge over allegations of improper absentee ballots.

Vanessa Hill, mayor of Greensboro, attended the meeting and said she knows a bit about absentee ballots. She ran for mayor of Greensboro in 2004 and lost to Johnnie Washington, a decision that would later be overturned by the Supreme Court.

Washington had 762 votes to Hill&8217;s 672 overall. But 211 of his votes, almost 33 percent, came from absentee ballots. Hill had 620 votes at the polls and only 52 in absentee ballots. Hill contested the election, and through a process of investigation and court hearings, she took office to fulfill the rest of her term in September 2006. Hill&8217;s election contest spawned a citizens&8217; election reform movement in Hale County and the Black Belt.