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‘Democracy’ in Georgia

Published Nov 17, 2005 11:14 PM

Your readers might be interested in still another example of how voter suppression and denial of voting rights occur.

Brunswick, Ga., is a small port city on the Atlantic Ocean of about 17,000 people, some 70 percent African-American, who are mostly poor. Just across the marsh are St. Simon’s Island and Sea Island, where the G-8 summit was held in the summer of 2004. Both islands are home to some of the wealthiest people in the U.S., particularly Sea Island, which is a privately owned resort.

Elaine Brown, former chair of the Black Panther Party, moved to Brunswick in the fall of 2004 after participating in the protest activities earlier that year at the summit. There has never been a Black mayor in Brunswick. Although the port creates enormous wealth, conditions for the majority of the residents are appalling—low wages, deteriorating housing, few social services, polluted water and air, etc.

Brown decided to run for mayor and conducted a grass-roots, door-to-door campaign, explaining her campaign platform of channeling the resources of the city into raising the standard of living for the majority. She especially opposed a multi-billion-dollar “improvement” plan, backed by Sea Island Corp. and other monied interests, to tear down the entire Black community in the downtown area and build expensive condominiums, apartments and houses. Over 400 volunteers canvassed the neighborhoods. Brown spoke at more than 70 churches. Discussions were held in bars, neighborhood centers, and on porches about what the community needed.

Just weeks before the Nov. 8 election, two people came forward to challenge her residency in Brunswick: a white businessman, friend of the current mayor, and a poor African-American woman. Neither of them had ever met Elaine Brown and said they didn’t know each other, yet both were represented before the Election Commission by the same high-priced lawyer.

The Glynn County Board of Elections decided that Brown had not lived in Brunswick for a full year, even though she had registered to vote on Nov. 4, 2004, at her Brunswick address.

Brown’s name was removed from the ballot. The board ordered that any write-in votes would not be counted.

A week later an appeals judge sustained the disqualification without comment.

Then on Nov. 7, one day before the election, a federal judge ruled that write-in votes for Brown would be counted.

The next day, the election was held in Brunswick, Ga. There was a low voter turnout. Brian Thomas, the Sea Island candidate and proponent of the “redevelopment plan,” won.

This is what “democracy” looks like in south Georgia.

—Dianne Mathiowetz