Voter Fraud Charges from 2010 Fizzle in Quitman, south Georgia
(APN) QUITMAN — On Wednesday, September 17, 2014, after four years, two mistrials, and a third trial that lasted over four week, Lula Smart, one of the original “Quitman 10,” was finally found not guilty on all charges of voter fraud.
Georgia’s Republican Legislature has used the spectre of “voter fraud” to justify efforts that have made it more difficult to vote, including Voter ID restrictions passed in the mid-2000’s.
Today, in 2014, the Secretary of State is going after the New Georgia Project, a voter registration group, with allegations of voter fraud that already appear to be suspect. In 2010, the red herring of voter fraud was Quitman, Georgia.
Of twelve Quitman citizens (the “Quitman 10 + 2”) who were arrested for voter fraud, only one–Lula Smart–has been tried, and acquitted (or A-Quitmaned, if you like).
Ms. Smart was indicted on 33 counts of voter fraud in 2011. All charges were thrown out, except 19, including 18 counts for unlawful possession of official ballots and one count for interference with an election by marking a ballot.
It all started back in 2010 when a remarkable thing happened in Quitman, Georgia, that threatened White control of the Board of Education of Brooks County, Georgia. Black leaders had organized, registered people to vote, educated people on ways to vote and on alternatives, and had won an election.
Ten of the Black leaders were then were arrested a few days before Christmas of 2010, and charged with felony voter fraud; two more leaders were arrested in subsequent months.
As reported earlier by Atlanta Progressive News, District Attorney J. David Miller of the Southern Judicial Circuit, a Republican, authorized the involvement of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI). The investigation was instigated because of an unusually high number of absentee ballots cast in the July 2010 Primary Election.
Even Georgia’s Governor Nathan Deal took sides in 2012, when he issued an executive order removing the three Black women, charged with voter fraud, from the Brooks County school board.
Some have speculated that the pursuit by Miller and Gov. Deal of the Q10 was, in fact, an effort to intimidate and suppress the vote of Black voters in Georgia.
A massive Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) investigation found no real evidence that any of the Q-10 defrauded or coerced anyone into voting for anyone other than who they wanted to vote for. The investigation did create harassment, intimidation, and fear when the agents, wearing guns, interrogated over 400 residents in Quitman, mostly Black households.
“The GBI investigation took several months and numerous agents were involved, it was close to twenty agents,” Steve Turner, Special Agent in charge of the investigation, told APN.
The GBI wrote the sixteen questions that were asked, Turner said, but he but did not know the amount of money it cost to conduct the investigation. Paired with the GBI agents were an equal number of Secretary of State police investigators in Quitman.
Each GBI officer testified they did not intimidate anyone, but the sheer size of the investigation in a small rural South Georgia town of 5,000 residents was in itself intimidating.
The GBI and Secretary of State police agents knocked on doors, wearing guns, showing badges, asking questions about voting; the situation had everything but the bloodhounds to frighten Georgians and put a chilling effect on future voter registration efforts and even future voting.
“When they came (GBI), I just got in from work and it upset and scared me. They ask me who I was voting for and all that. It upset me because I wasn’t used to that,” an elderly Quitman citizen told APN. APN granted them anonymity because they did not want to be identified. “I don’t want to be part of that any more,” they said.
George Boston Rhynes has been documenting and videotaping this case from the beginning. He has walked the streets in Quitman and talked to people.
“The GBI agents went to people’s jobs and said you’re not really working, and asked them about their children and even questioned people who were under stress already from deaths in their family. A couple of women said they would never vote again because they were intimidated by the GBI,” Rhynes told APN.
Some admitted on the witness stand they told the GBI whatever they wanted to hear out of fear of losing their job or going to jail for voting.
“The message sent to our citizens was, if you don’t want the GBI to come visiting and put you in jail, you better not vote,” Diane Thomas, sister of Lula Smart, told APN .
Tift County Superior Court Judge Gary McCorvey called question number 14 on the GBI questionnaire “the dumbest question” because it was a compound question requiring two separate answers.
Question # 14 reads: “Did you vote for who you wanted to or were you pressured to vote for someone in particular?” People said yes to the first part, but the officers did not always follow up and get an answer for the second part of that question, and falsely assumed they were pressured to vote for someone other than the person they wanted to vote for.
The GBI agents were told not use recorders that could have ensured the answers were accurate. Under cross examination, C.B. King, Smart’s defense attorney, exposed many inaccuracies, misinformation, and one or two word answers instead of complete statements from voters.
“I would say 80 to 90 percent of the voters–whose vote was urged by the prosecution as being mishandled–said that what was reported on those interview forms was not what they said. You had a high incident of misreporting on the part of the GBI investigators and the Secretary of State investigators based upon the testimony of the actual voters who supposedly was interviewed,” King told APN.
Under oath, John Boone, a Brooks County postal worker, testified that he wrote down the names and address of postal customers from their mailed in absentee ballots and turned this private information over to several third parties.
Under oath, Melba Lovett, the county registrar, testified that she took ballots home because the job was overwhelming.
Neither Boone or Lovett, however, have been charged with wrongdoing, even though both admitted to breaking the law under oath.
“I live in a town where there is a lot of prejudice. If you are in the clique, you can get away with a whole lot of stuff. That is the reason Black folks go to jail on trumped up charges, while White folks are told ‘don’t do it again,’” Thomas told APN.
“We think this was about sour grapes, about sore losers, folks who believe there should not be greater participation in elections but actually less, and only by those who are privileged,” King told APN.
It is not known at this time if other members of the original Quitman 10+2 will face a court trial. Latashia Head, one of the original members, died in 2012. They hope, though, with the not guilty verdict of Lula Smart this nightmare in Quitman will end.