The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has opened up a full blown inquiry based upon accusations of voter fraud in Brooks County, Georgia.
Even though many facts have not been divulged thus far, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation arrested ten Brooks County residents, mainly from the city of Quitman, a majority-African American city in South Georgia.
The suspects are accused of illegally helping people vote by absentee ballot.
The defendants maintain their innocence, but thus far it has been mostly a public relations show for the Secretary of State’s office, led by Republican Brian Kemp.
“The proof will be when we get to court,” said Rev. Floyd Rose with the Valdosta Lowndes County Chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. “We don’t think there’s going to be anything to this at all.
Allegations began in late July when Darryl Hicks defeated former Georgia House speaker Terry Coleman of Eastman by 572 votes in the Democratic primary for labor commissioner.
Even though Coleman still won Brooks County by a few votes in the July 20th primary, the margin of victory was debated and the issue of absentee ballots was first brought up.
Hicks was eventually deemed the winner of the Democratic primary and the results were certified by the Secretary of State.
However, local Brooks County officials were affected by the increased number of absentee ballots.
One Brooks County elected official, an incumbent, who was once called South Georgia’s most influential person has been a Brooks County Commissioner for nearly two decades. This Brooks County official has gone on record of his apparent disdain for people using the absentee ballot in his county—even though voting by absentee ballots is legal.
There were three local races in which incumbents lost. Two incumbents were part of the Brooks County Board of Education.
The Board has seven total members, only two were African-American– Nancy Whitfield-Dennard and Frank Robinson.
If certified results were to stand, Brooks County would have four blacks on the seven-member Brooks County School Board.
1. Linda Troutman, an African-American had defeated the white incumbent Myra Exum with 54% of the vote in the July 20th primary. In the majority African-American city of Morven, Troutman received 107 absentee votes (97 were via mail).
The vote was certified and Troutman was proclaimed the winner of the District 4 seat of the Brooks County Board of Education. The final vote tally was 321 to 272.
2. Elizabeth Thomas, an African-American had defeated the white incumbent Gary Rentz with 57% of the vote in the July 20th primary. This seat is an at-large, county-wide seat. Even though Brooks County is 40% African-American, the largest voting precinct is Quitman– a town that is approximately 67% African-American.
Thomas received 713 absentee votes in the Quitman precinct (640 via absentee by mail). The vote was certified and Thomas was proclaimed the winner of the at-large, countywide seat. The final vote tally, according to the Secretary of State website, was 1551 to 1135.
The issue is absentee ballots, but in a year in which many voters stayed home and not bothered to vote, it appears Brooks County’s African-American community exercised their voting rights and the incumbents are trying to find a way to change the will of the people.
Congress enacted the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, 42 U.S.C. 1973gg-5(a), (b), to enhance voting opportunities for every American and to remove the vestiges of discrimination which have historically resulted in lower voter registration rates of minorities and persons with disabilities. The NVRA has brought new voices to the political process by making it easier for all Americans to exercise their fundamental right to vote.
“The issue is the absentee ballots,” said Claude Butler, the County Commissioner for District Three.”They have gone rampant here in our county. And it’s unethical and it’s unconstitutional.”
Butler, 69, a white Democrat, lost in the July 20th primary by 247 votes to Willie Cody. The final vote tally, according to the Secretary of State website, was 514 to 267.
The American South has had a history of suppressing the vote via poll taxes, literacy tests and vote intimidation which brought forth the Voting Rights Act in 1965.
Is this current situation in Brooks County sour grapes by incumbents or an effort to suppress the African-American vote via intimidation? Or both?
Nadine Proctor, 64, talked to WCTV-TV in Valdosta and believes the election results should stand and wants to make sure her vote counts.
“I feel that my voters’ rights has been violated,” said Proctor, who mailed an absentee ballot this election. “Not only as a minority of black. I feel that the people has to be maintained to understand the difference between an absentee ballot and direct voting.”
In Brooks County, there are close to 9,000 registered voters. The largest voting precinct is Quitman that has approximately 3,000 registered voters.
Roy Barnes won the Quitman precinct with 65% of the vote in November. President Barack Obama won this Quitman precinct in 2008 with 58% of the vote.
Quitman is a town of approximately 5,000 and the city is two-thirds (67%) African-American.
On November 2nd, Barnes won at least 50% of the vote in four of the nine total voting precincts in Brooks County. The Morven precinct voted for Barnes with 58%, Grooverville with 56%, Quitman with 65%. Plus the unincorporated town “Dixie” voted for Barnes with 61% of the vote and Dixie was won by Obama with 53% of the vote in 2008.
Concerned Brooks County residents have made plans to protest the arrest of the ten African-American citizens from Quitman –also called the Quitman 10— including Diane Thomas, and Linda Troutman, who were recently elected to the Brooks County School Board of Education.