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Voting rights threatened in Georgia

The case of The Quitman 10+2

Published Feb 16, 2012 9:33 PM

Not many people know about The Quitman 10+2, all African Americans.

Quitman is a small town of about 5,000 people — 67 percent African-American — in rural South Georgia, not far from the Florida state line. A few years ago, a group of citizens, tired of having no voice in their community, decided to go out and encourage residents to exercise their right to vote. Going door-to-door, they were successful with voter registration and education. Hundreds became new voters and engaged in the political life of their community. Three candidates were chosen to run for two School Board positions and one County Commission seat. Relying heavily on advance voting and voting via absentee ballot, the three African Americans beat white incumbents in the Democratic primary. The losers entered as write-in candidates in the November 2010 general election but lost again.

In Georgia, there are no restrictions on who can use an absentee ballot, and advance voting provided more flexibility for casting a ballot. By employing these two alternate methods of voting, many whose work schedules or family responsibilities had hindered them from voting in the past were encouraged to express their view. The balance of power on the School Board was altered and an African-American educator, Dr. Nancy Dennard, was named chair of the Board. Upset by the outcome, the local district attorney ordered an investigation by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Shortly after the newly elected members took office, on Dec. 21, 2010, 10 people, including Dr. Dennard and the other successful candidates, were arrested and charged with alleged unlawful possession of ballots that favored the board members in the 2010 Brooks County School Board election. Five hundred people kept vigil at the jail until they were released.

Since their arrest in December 2010, they have not been indicted and have not heard anything else from the district attorney’s office. A year later, two more African Americans were charged with voter fraud.

On Jan. 10, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal suspended three of the African-American Brooks County School Board members, by way of an executive order. These members have not been convicted of anything, much less voter fraud.

The suspension returns the Brooks County School Board to a white majority, effectively dismissing the results of the election.

The Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials will hold their winter conference on Feb. 24-26 in Quitman and have planned a march and rally on the courthouse to demand the charges be dropped and the suspension of their terms be lifted.

For more information, please contact Adriane Harden at 678-653-2012 or email [email protected]