An August 5, 2019, headline on the Yahoo News homepage read, “How a criminal investigation in Georgia set an ominous tone for African American voters.” The lengthy article was written by Jon Ward, a former political correspondent at HuffPost. Ward currently serves as Chief Political Correspondent for Yahoo News.
In its August 25, 2014, announcement of Ward’s move from HuffPost to Yahoo, POLITICO is quoted as saying that “Yahoo is in the midst of an effort to turn the heavily trafficked site into a legitimate news organization.” Having read Ward’s story on the Georgia vote fraud investigation, it appears Yahoo still has a bit of work to do before reaching their goal.
The vote fraud story is centered in Quitman, Georgia (pop. 3,850), a rural community situated on the Florida state line in Brooks County, midway between the Alabama state line and the Atlantic coast at Savannah. In many respects, Brooks County is a throwback to the Deep South of the 1865-1955 era. In 2014, of the 4,556 county residents who voted, 2,903 were whites, and 1,653 were African Americans. All but a few county residents were Democrats.
Quitman is the county seat of Brooks County, named in honor of notorious South Carolina congressman Preston Brooks. As Ward describes Cong. Brooks, he was a member of Congress who “infamously beat Sen. Charles Sumner within an inch of his life on the floor of the Senate, in 1856, for his criticism of slavery.”
What actually happened, and what Ward glosses over, was that Sumner, a Republican senator from Massachusetts, was making a speech on the Senate floor condemning the May 21, 1856 ransacking of Lawrence, Kansas, a small abolitionist community, by a force of some 800 pro-slavery Democrats, mostly recruited in neighboring Missouri, a slave state. Several people were killed, the local anti-slavery newspaper presses were destroyed, and several buildings, including the Free State Hotel, were burned to the ground.
Shortly after the invasion of Lawrence, Senator Sumner delivered a fiery speech, condemning slavery and the denial of Kansans’ right to self-determination by pro-slavery Democrats. As he spoke, Brooks crept up behind him and struck him over the head with a cane, knocking him unconscious. And while it is fashionable today for leftists to attack statues and memorials of noted American patriots, of all political persuasions, none have seen fit to remove the plaque honoring Preston Brooks in Quitman, Georgia.
The Quitman vote fraud controversy began in the early morning hours of December 21, 2010, when Nancy Dennard, the only black member of the Brooks County school board, was arrested at her home in Quitman and taken away in handcuffs. A number of Dennard’s African American friends and political allies were also arrested. In all, the authorities arrested a total of 12 people, charging them with 120 separate felonies. As Ward describes the controversy, “To Dennard and her allies, who became known as the Quitman 10+2, the reasons for their arrests were simple. They were black candidates who won an election in the Deep South, upsetting a white-dominated power structure.”
That assessment is only partly true. Yes, Dennard and her political allies had upset a 145-year-old power structure that had been run by whites Democrats since the close of the Civil War. What Ward fails to explain is that, in the process of upsetting that old power structure, laws had been broken.
Ward tells us that the Quitman case “provided fodder for Republicans around the country who argued that voter fraud is a significant problem, despite a lack of evidence of any widespread or large-scale examples.” That denial is right out of the Democratic Party playbook. The truth is, vote fraud is such a significant problem that to deny it is to purposely overlook it and to excuse it. Ward goes on to charge that then-Georgia secretary of state, now governor, Brian Kemp, “has been one of the most aggressive politicians involved in purging voters from the rolls.”
In making that charge, Ward is merely doing the Democrats’ dirty work. His charge that new anti-fraud laws make it “harder to vote, especially for poor and non-white voters,” is false and totally unworthy of a credible journalist. If challenged, Ward would be unable to name a single US state that has not made it as simple and as easy as humanly possible to register and to vote. The act of registering and voting is the same for everyone, no matter the age, gender, race, or political affiliation of the voter.
Ward tells us that, “Kemp and his aides often spoke of how they were ‘fighting to protect the integrity of our elections.’” That is precisely what they were doing, although Democrats, black and white, use every conceivable device to create opportunities for vote fraud and to defeat reforms. Democrats even go so far as to oppose every state law requiring voters to show photo IDs before voting, providing some proof that they are who they say they are.
In a Senate floor speech on February 7, 1894, prior to final passage of the Repeal Act of 1894, Senator George Hoar (R-MA) said the following: “Wherever there is a crevice in our protection of the freedom of the ballot there you will find the Democratic Party trying to break through. Wherever we have left open an opportunity to get possession of an office contrary to the true and constitutional will of the majority there you will find that party pressing; there you will find that party exercising an ingenuity before which even the great inventive genius of the American People, exerted in other directions, fails and is insignificant in the comparison.”
Hoar concluded by saying, “Mr. President, the nation must protect its own. Every citizen whose right is imperiled, if he be but one, when it is a right of national citizenship and a right conferred and enjoyed under the Constitution of the United States, has the right to demand for its protection the entire force of the United States until the Army has spent its last man and the Navy fired its last gun. Most of us have nothing else than the right to vote…. The urn in which the American casts his ballot ought to be, aye, and it shall be, as sacred as a sacramental vessel.”
All that is necessary to expose the hypocrisy behind Democratic opposition to photo ID laws is to suggest that, instead, we require voters to dip a pinkie into a vial of indelible ink after voting, as is done in many emerging democracies of the Third World. This would prevent would-be double voters from voting again and again in multiple venues. It’s hard to imagine what argument Democrats would offer in opposition to that safeguard, but they would be certain to oppose it and their argument would be a creative one. As for Ward’s concern that Kemp has been “one of the most aggressive politicians involved in purging voters from the rolls,” are we to infer that he favors keeping disfranchised, fictitious, non-existent, non-citizen, and otherwise ineligible voters on the rolls? For what purpose, other than to facilitate fraud?.
Although Dennard had lived in Quitman for a number of years, it was not until she became a teacher in the Brooks County school system in 2000 that she became aware of how decisions were made in public education. She noted that, while almost 60 percent of Brooks County residents were white and the school board was composed of all white members, the student bodies in the public schools were mostly African Americans. It was that disparity that caused Dennard to make her first run for a seat on the Brooks County school board.
Dennard lost her first race for the school board in 2004 and she lost a second attempt in 2008. However, those two losses taught her a great deal about campaigning for public office, especially the importance of targeting residents who had not voted before and the value of using absentee ballots to enfranchise those who, for one reason or another, found it difficult to vote in person. When Dennard made a third attempt in a special election in 2009, she was successful.
Dennard’s three races for the school board produced a number of activists in the black community, two of whom ran for school board seats, along with Dennard, in the July 2010 Democratic primary. However, it was during Dennard’s aggressive 2009 campaign that white Democrats were first alerted that a “movement” was underway in the black community. When an unusually large number of absentee ballots started showing up in the Quitman post office, often “rolled together and tied with a rubber band in groups of anywhere from 6 to 8 at a time,” the postmaster’s curiosity was aroused and the Georgia secretary of state, Brian Kemp, was alerted. .
Dennard and her volunteers did a number of things wrong. In some cases, they helped voters mark their absentee ballots or marked the ballots for them. That is illegal. By bundling groups of absentee ballots, they were inviting an investigation by state and local authorities. Furthermore, the act of “bundling” absentee ballots was a strong indication that someone other than the individual voters, or a member of their immediate family, had deposited the ballots at a postal collection point. Under Georgia law, voters must “mail or personally deliver” their ballots to the voting office. For a family member to deliver an absentee ballot on behalf of another family member is also permissible.
Although the law should be clearer as to who is allowed to deposit an absentee ballot in the U.S. mail, the legislative intent is clear. What the legislature was trying to prevent was situations in which a campaign worker from Party D, who witnessed a voter mark his/her ballot for the candidates of Party R, would see to it that that ballot never made it to its final destination. It is a common practice in ballot “harvesting.”
Dennard was eventually charged with eight counts of “unlawful possession of ballots” and three counts of “interfering with an elector.” Lula Smart, the sister of a 2010 school board candidate, was charged with 25 counts of “unlawful possession of ballots.” The penalties were such that Dennard faced at least thirty years behind bars and Smart could have spent the rest of her life behind bars. Every member of the Quitman 10+2 faced at least twenty years in prison. And although Smart was tried three times… the first two trials ending in mistrials… she was eventually acquitted of all charges.
In the end, none of the Quitman 10+2 were convicted; no one went to jail. But there is a lesson to be learned. In spite of Ward’s opinion that vote fraud is not a significant problem in our country, the evidence is clear that Democrats have always played fast and loose with the law when an office of public trust was up for grabs. Where Democrats are concerned, politics is just a game, a game that is to be won or lost, and losing is not an option.
Republicans tend to see things quite differently. To Republicans, politics is a noble pursuit. Simply stated, it is the process by which we establish government. White Democrats in Brooks County, Georgia, may not understand that, but people in the black community surely do.
Paul R. Hollrah is a retired government relations executive and a two-time member of the U.S. Electoral College. He currently lives and writes among the hills and lakes of northeast Oklahoma’s Green Country.