Briefing Paper on the Attacks on African American Voters in the Alabama Black Belt, Prepared for Meeting with U.S. Attorney General Jane Reno, Julian Bond as a Member of the Delegation, 1998 June 11

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Briefing Paper on the Attacks on African American Voters in the Alabama Black Belt

Prepared for Meeting with U.S Attorney General Janet Reno June 11, 1998

Members of Delegation: Julian Bond, Chair, National Board, NAACP Elaine Joens, Executive Director Legal Defense & Education Fund, Inc. Marthing Luther King III, PResident, Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) State Sen. Hank Sanders, Selma, AL. President, Alabama New South Coalition Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth, Co-Chair, Southern Organizing Committee for Economic & Social Justice (SOC) John Zippen, Co-Chair, Alabama Black Belt Defense Committee & Co-Publisher, Greene Country, AL. Democrat

Accompanied by: U.S. Rep. John Conyers, MI U.S. Rep. Earl Hillard, AL, First Vice Chiar, Congressional Black Caucus U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, CA, Chair, Congressional Black Caucus

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Introduction and Summary

We come here today to present information on a massive attack on AFrican American Voters and African American organizers of voter-participation that is now occuring in the Black Belt of Alabama.

The attack is being carrier out by agencies of both the state government of Alabama and the Federal government -- the office of the Attorney General of Alabama, the Alabama Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the office of the U.S. Attorney in Birmingham, AL.

The Alabama Black Belt is an area where African Americans are in the majority. Until recent decades, local governments were controlled by a small minrotiy of white citizens. After the struggle to voting rights that took place in the 1960s, African Americans in this area registered to vote in huge numbers, and by the end of the 1970s had elected majorities to local governing bodies in several counties. Voter turnout in the area in most elections ran a remarkable 70 percent or more. And although all these counties continue to be extremely poor, th eshift in power brought significant changes in the lives of the people -- for example in housing, health care, recreational and educational facilities, public services, job opportunities, and ability to walk the streets without fear.

In the mid-1980s, there was an attempt by the old white power structure to regain power through criminal charges against organizers of voter paticipation and by intimidation of voters. 212 felony charges of vote fraud were brought against eight organizers of voter fraud were brought against eight organizers. The charges involved absentee ballots, which are a major factor in election outcomes in this area because they are many elderly citizens who cannot go to the polls and shortage of jobs mean that many people work outside their home counties. Ultimately, none of the felony charges brought in the 1980s held up in court, and African Americans continued coming out to the polls in huge numbers.

After the November, 1995 general election an almost identical attack began. Since that time, charges of voter fraud have been brought against 12 organizers in Hale, Wilcox, and Greene Counties. FBI agents have questioned hundreds of African American citizensin Greene County about their 1994 vote. In this county, which is presently the main center of the attack (and where 80 percent of the population is African American) eight people have been indicted, and two have been convicted and sentenced to 33 months in prison

All of this has produced a dramatic reduction in voter turnout, especially in thje number of abenstee votes. This is already producing a shift in election results that will alter these counties. For example, in the June 2, 1996 primary an African American prosecutor elected 5-1/2 years ago to serve three predominantly African American counties (Marengo, Sumter, and Greene) was defeated by the white prosecutor he ousted in the previous election, losing by 256 vtoes.

These developments in the Alabama Black Belt must be seen in the context of a wider pattern of attack on voting rights and fair representation in government For. example, in Alabama, these is an effort to pass laws that make voting more complicated and difficult. There is also a growing effort to reverse redistricting that has made it possible for more African Americans to win

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public office. (Alabama's population is 35 percent African American. At present is has just one Black congressman out of seven, and just 35 out of 140 legislators.) In 1996, the home of a Black Circuit Judge, Eddie Hardaway, in Livingston AL, in Sumter County, was shot into while he and his family were inside. When the State Attorney General looke into the shooting, he investigated Hardaway instead of the shooting. Meantime the news media carries on a campaign implying that Black Elected Officials are dishonest and cannot manage government. All this is very similar to attacks that drove Blacks from public office after Reconstruction in the 19th Century and ushered in a reign of terror in the South that lasted 100 years. Attacks on voting rights --- different in detail, but similar in basic thrust --- are going on in many other states.

We come to the U.S. Attorney General because we think our Federal Government must not find itself on the side of people trying to turn the clock back and deny full voting rights and political representation to African Americans. The Federal government must take positive action to support the people who try to make democracy work by coming out to vote.

We wish to raise three basic questions about the Alabama Investigations and prosecutions that we think merit the attention of the Attorney General:

1. There has been gross misconduct on the part of FBI agents which has resulted in intimidation and fear among voters.

2. The investigation and criminal charges in Alabama are an attempt to use the courts and criminal charges to deal with what should be a political struggle. That is, the matter of who controls a governmental body should be decided by voters at the polls. When one side has the power to try and enforce its will through criminal investigations and charges, this democratic process itself is undermined. This is a total misuse of the court system.

(And while it might be argued that such investigations are necessary so that our elections can be honest and free of fraud, this argument does not hold up in Alabama because such investigations have only occurred in areas where African Americans are in the majority and have elected Black-majority governments. Complaints of voter fraud against whites have been ignored. Thus, one cannot conclude that the motive for the Black Belt investigations is honest elections )

3. The case against the two people already convicted in Greene County was based on flimsy, virtually non-existent, evidence. While we understand that no one, inlcuindg the Attorney General, should go behind a decision of a jury, we think a question must be raised as to how a Federal prosecutor could take such a case to court. The indictment of the six people still to be tried in Greene County is equally questionable.

In this paper, we document first the effect of the intimidation on voter turnout in the past four years and then each of the above points.

We ask that the Attorney General give this matter thorough attention. At the end of this paper, we make specific recommendations for action.

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Part 1

Comparison of Voter Turnout in Greene County, AL, 1992 - 1998

The population of Greene County is approximately 10,000. The voter registration is now being officially reported at about 7,000, although some people question that figure. In 1994, it was reportedly about 5,800.

The chart and graphs that follow in this paper show the changes in voter turnout from 1992 through the June 2 primary election this year. First primaries, run-offs, and general election figures are provided for four election years --- 1992, 1994, 1996, 1998.

The most revealing comparison are between the 1994 elections and the current year. This is because the same public offices were up for election in those years.

In the first primary in 1994, the turnout was 4,691. In the general election in November of that year, the turnout was even higher, 4,833.

In the first 1998 primary just held on June 2, the turnout was down to 3,928.

However, even more significant figures are the ones dealing with absentee votes. In the first primary in 1994, 1,118 voters, or about 25 percent of the voters cast their ballots absentee in the general eleciton that year, there were 1,463 absentee ballots, about one-third of the total.

This year on June 2, there were only 147 absentee ballots cast.

Absentee ballots are a major factor in many rural counteis, especially ones with high poverty levels. That is because distances to polling places are great, and more elderly people must vote by absentee. Any many people have to seek employment outside their home counties and therefore cannot go to the polls on election days.

Therefore, all candidates work hard to get absentee votes. They often decide elections.

But ti takes work and organization to get these votes. African American voter participation organizers have learned over the past three decades to do this well and have done it in an efficient and organized manner. Such activities are fully legal, as the law allows people to assist others in applying for absentee ballots and voting them, with the voters cooperation and permission.

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ABSENTEE BALLOTS AS A PERCENTAGE OF TOTAL VOTES IN GREENE COUNTY, AL., PRIMARY ELECTIONS

[graph]

4061 voters 4691 voters 3166 voters 3928 voters
18% Absentee Ballots 24% Absentee Ballots 6% Absences 4% Absences
1992 1994 1996 1998
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