I want to believe that we live in a country where what matters is not the color of one's skin, nor the class they were born in, but instead the content of their character. Let's set the record straight before we start with the story I have to tell. I'm white as the snow, but what I know is that the things going on back home aren't right. Unless we stand together, we'll fall apart.
"Vicious, closet racism."
Those were the words of Hurley Goodall on Friday night as he gathered with about 100 other local residents, most of them black, to speak out against what they say is an unnecessary and unfair Republican investigation of voting in Precinct 18, a predominantly black precinct.
How did it come to this?
In this year's mayoral election, the margin of victory was razor thin. 9 votes of more than 12,000 cast. Less than 1/10th of 1% divided the winner, Democratic candidate Jim Mansfield, from the loser, Republican candidate Sharon McShurley. After absentee and provisional ballots where counted, Mansfield's margin of victory rose to 11 votes. McShurley and the Republican part entered into overdrive at this point on two points.
The first, demanding a recount, was entirely reasonable, and under state law is a virtual given. The second is where things went off into Jim Crow land. The Republicans alledged vote fraud and filed for a change of venue, alledging that they couldn't get a fair trial in Muncie because they might be brought before a judge that was elected on the Democratic ticket. (No, I'm not joking, follow the link, it's a pdf of the court papers.) And the Star Press (the local paper) gave the fair and balanced coverage that people from Muncie have grown to expect..
MUNCIE — Democrats committed fraud, misconduct and tampering in the city’s mayoral election this month, according to a recount petition filed by the Delaware County Republican Party.
Republican party leaders filed the petition around 10 a.m. today in Delaware Circuit Court 3.
In a press conference afterward, Republican Party attorney David Brooks of Indianapolis offered few details regarding the alleged fraud, misconduct and tampering.
Brooks said the party had amassed a remarkable amount of evidence, but would not say where or how.
Shortly after this, details began to emerge that are highly suggestive of an organized effort to intimidate black voters. The complaints centered on precincts 12 and 18, two majority-minority precincts in an area known as Whitely on the city's northeast side. At issue was the widespread use of absentee ballots in this area. In fact, more absentee ballots were cast than machine ballots in these two precincts. Local Democratic councilman Monte Murphy and the Democratic party have been involved in highly successful efforts to get valid voters absentee ballots. This precinct contains large numbers of senior citizens, and people with jobs that make it difficult for them to vote in person. As it became apparent that McShurely was not going to make up the 9 vote difference in absentee and provisional ballots, the Republican machine resorted to voter intimidation, harrassing black voters in precinct 18.
Voter Robert Lewis, who lives in precinct 18, approached the board with a complaint about being treated unequally.
During the meeting, Lewis said four people claiming to be election board representatives visited his home last week. The supposed officials questioned Lewis about how he voted, including who he voted for, he said.
"I feel my rights have been abused," Lewis said. "I just felt very intimidated with the way they asked the questions. I felt like I did something wrong."
Lewis said he was first visited by a man and a woman, then again by two men.
Pat Fields, acting president for the Muncie chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said there were several reports of similar incidents in the same precinct.
Among the men alledged to have intimidated black voters was former prosecutor Rick Reed, who while elected as a Democrat, is a support of the local Republican party and McShurley. Amazingly, Reed is alledged to have led the voters challenged to beleive that he was an election offical, which his is not.
Both argued that Lewis and other voters in the predominantly black Precinct 18 were targeted because of their race, and that the questioning constituted harassment.
"They made it seem like I did something wrong," Lewis said.
The four people did not identify themselves, Lewis said, but represented themselves in a fashion that led him to believe they were election officials.
Democrat attorney and County Commissioner John Brooke, who was in attendance at Friday's meeting, told the board he received 10 similar complaints from voters in Precinct 18.
Some told Brooke that the people actually identified themselves as representatives of the election board, Brooke told The Star Press after the meeting.
Even more shocking, the Republican's attorney, David Brook, sent a letter to absentee voters in precinct 18, stating that he was hired to look into election misconduct, but never identified himself as a working for the Republican party as required by state law.
The letter, from Republican attorney David Brooks, begins: "I am an attorney who has been hired to, among other things, look into possible election misconduct in your precinct."
While Brooks identifies himself and composed the letter on his law firm letterhead, he does not disclose that he was hired by the Delaware County Republican Party.
"He never says who his client is," Quirk said in an interview. "People are left wondering, is he working for Delaware County or working for the election board?"
The Republicans to this day have not presented one drop of evidence that there was even a single instance of absentee voter fraud in precinct 18, but they continue to argue that fraud occurred. And while the Republican secretary of state has deemed fit to give credence to these baseless accusations by opening an investigation into voter fraud in precinct 18, no action has been taken against the Republican party for voter intimidation. And the local paper has chosen to write the whole thing off as the work of the "Democratic machine."
The question is whether the investigation into alleged voter fraud as part of the mayoral recount is racist, as alleged by some in the black community, politics as usual or a combination of the two.
Is investigating a predominately black precinct racist if that is where the alleged voter fraud took place? Is it racist to point out that the number of absentee ballots cast compared to votes cast at the poll in precinct 18 would raise eyebrows in any election in any city in the country? If a crime was committed is it racist to prosecute those involved if they were black?
Acutally, yes it is racist, and it was ruled as such by a federal court in New Jersey in 1982. The Debevoise decree was issued where the Republican National Comittee (RNC) was found to have directed "ballot security" measures against districts whose sole unifiying characteristic was that they were majority-minority. It found the following:
In 1981 the Democratic National Committee filed suit against the RNC and the New Jersey Republican State Committee alleging that they violated the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, inter alia, which was resolved by a consent decree entered into in 1982 which provided that the RNC will refrain from undertaking any ballot security activities in polling places or elections districts where the racial or ethnic composition of 3 such districts is a factor in the decision to conduct, or the actual conduct of, such activities there and where a purpose or significant effect of such activities is to deter qualified voters from voting; and the conduct of such activities disproportionately i[s] directed toward districts that have a substantial proportion of racial or ethnic populations shall be considered relevant evidence of the existence of such a factor and purpose.
So let's review.
- You can't target precincts for "ballot security" measures on the basis of race or ethnicity.
- When "ballot security" measures are directed disproportionately against districts with minorities this demonstrates racist purpose.
So let's be fair to the Muncie Republicans and let the facts have their say. Muncie Republicans have directed their "ballot security" measures primarily against the 18th precinct, and to a lesser extent against the 12th precinct. The precinct map below may be found at the Delaware County Clerk's website.
Precincts 12 and 18 appear in the upper right hand corner, on the northeast side of Muncie.
This is the 2000 US Census fast facts for tracts tract map for the area.
Note that precincts 12 and 18 roughly concide with tract 12. Tract 12 is one of only 2 majority-minority tracts in Muncie. The other is tract 3, in an area of the city known as Industry, and home to the former Munsyana Homes, which was a run down federal housing project. No other tract exceeds 30% black. Thus, the actions taken by Republicans in alledging voter fraud, and engaging in "ballot security" measures would appear to be violations of the 14th and 15th as found in the Debevoise decree.
So it certainly looks like the Star Press and the Republican party have gone astray here. A man or a woman should be able to cast their ballot without fear that they will later have men come to their home acting like they're election officals, or receive intimdating letters. The Republican party of Delaware county has gone to far with this. And it's about damn time that something be done to stop this sort of voter intimidation before we find that Jim Crow and the gang have found a new way to do the same old thing. I'm just schocked that this hasn't received any national media coverage.