Voter fraud is about keeping poor people poor. It does not give
them the opportunity to get an education, to get a job, to have a
place to raise your family.
-Mississippi Secretary of State
In the 1990s in Greene County, Alabama, citizens, local
political candidates, federal and state prosecutors, and a
local newspaper joined together to fight absentee ballot fraud in
the county, one of the poorest in Alabama. Unfortunately, liberal
groups like the NAACP and the Southern Christian Leadership
Conference worked equally hard to undermine the effort.
Even as the investigation uncovered massive wrongdoing,
so-called civil rights groups objected at every turn, alleging a
plot to disenfranchise poor and minority voters. But in the end,
justice prevailed with the convictions of 11 conspirators who had
fixed local elections for years. The Greene County case is proof
that absentee ballot fraud is real and not a cover story for an
imagined voter-disenfranchisement conspiracy.
The most important lesson of Greene County is that absentee
ballots are extremely vulnerable to voter fraud. The case shows how
absentee ballot fraud really works, and it is a reality very
different from the claims of partisans and advocacy groups. More
broadly, the case shows how voter fraud threatens the right to free
and fair elections and how those most often harmed are poor and
minorities. This directly rebuts the usual partisan conspiracy
theories about voter fraud.
According to the self-appointed liberal guardians of the poor,
practically every effort to legislate against or prosecute voter
fraud is intended to keep minorities and the poor from voting
at all. Concern over voter fraud, say some partisans, is simply
Republicans' cover to intimidate voters and raise obstacles to
minority voting. Indeed, groups like the NAACP argue that racism
and intimidation are the motivation for voter fraud prosecutions,
and some prominent Democrats dismiss voter fraud as virtually
nonexistent. As a result, prosecutors are intimidated from
fighting vote fraud for fear of the political consequences,
and elections continue to be stolen.
Greene County shows that these groups have it backwards. Voter
fraud prosecutions do not intimidate voters; what does
intimidate them is the knowledge that voter fraud is routine and
goes unpunished. Too often, not only is no one willing to take
action against it, but the organizations that victims expect to
help them instead take the side of the vote thieves. In contrast to
the views of such organizations, an overwhelming majority of
citizens support such common-sense and nonpartisan reforms as
requiring voter identification when an individual votes.
Further, the Greene County case demonstrates that voter fraud
need not be partisan in nature. Partisan conspiracy theories
about election reform just do not apply to intra-party voter fraud
in primary elections in heavily Democratic or Republican
jurisdictions where primary results determine who wins in the
general election. The perpetrators of voter fraud, particularly in
small rural counties, are often political incumbents whose control
of local government is threatened by challengers from the same
political party. In Greene County, almost all of the candidates,
incumbents and challengers alike, were both Democrats and
Although some partisans will cling to their debunked conspiracy
theories, those who honestly seek to protect voters' rights must
study the methods and means of voter fraud in order to combat it.
Absentee ballot fraud in particular is difficult to control.
It is "the 'tool of choice' for those who are engaging in
election fraud," as the Florida Department of Law
Enforcement concluded in its investigation of the 1997 Miami
mayoral election. The results of that election were thrown out
because of massive fraud involving over 5,000 absentee ballots.
With the growth of no-fault absentee voting and all-mail
elections, there is the real risk that fraud will affect more
election results and even wipe out voting rights hard won by the
Civil Rights movement.
The Greene County case is important, then, because it
demonstrates the ease with which fraudulent absentee ballots
can be used to steal elections, the tactics used to steal those
votes, the complete failure of liberal advocacy groups to protect
the interests of vulnerable voters who have been
disenfranchised by fraud, and the value of vigorous law
enforcement to protect legitimate voters' rights. It also points
the way toward common-sense solutions to make voting more
secure and increase public confidence in the electoral process.
Greene County is located in the west-central portion of Alabama
between the Tombigbee and Black Warrior Rivers in a region known as
the Black Belt for its dark, rich soil. Eutaw is the county
seat. It was the first Alabama county in which political power
shifted entirely to blacks after passage of the Voting Rights Act
in 1965. By all measures, Greene County is an
extremely poor, rural county. In 2006, its population was just
9,374, making it the least populated county in Alabama, and
its citizenry is 80 percent black. Slightly more than 10 percent of
residents have a college degree, and the median household income is
just $22,439, a hair above the U.S. poverty line.
The county is governed by a powerful five-member board of
commissioners. The commissioners are responsible for dispensing
much of the $83,876,000 in federal funds-$8,606 per
person-that flows to the county. Indeed, the county
government is the leading source of employment, contracts, and
This kind of spoils system tempts politicians to misbehave. In
1996, Greene County declared bankruptcy because a bloated
county payroll, extensive debt, and "improper and illegal spending"
had exhausted county revenue. The commission's financial
management was so bad "that state auditors said they couldn't even
audit the county's finances."
The promise of spoils also led to stiff competition for
seats on the commission and to voter fraud. The Birmingham Office
of the U.S. Attorney and the Alabama Attorney General conducted an
extensive joint investigation of absentee ballot fraud allegations
in the November 8, 1994, election. By the end of the
investigation, nine defendants had pled guilty to voter fraud,
and two were found guilty by a jury. The defendants included Greene
County commissioners, officials, and employees; a racing
commissioner; a member of the board of education; a Eutaw city
councilman; and other community leaders.
All of these defendants were part of a conspiracy to manipulate
the outcome of elections for local offices in Greene County and the
town of Eutaw to protect incumbents and their allies from
challengers. Notably, almost all of the candidates involved,
on both sides, were African-American Democrats-so the usual
partisan conspiracy theories do not hold any water. The case is
worth studying for that reason and because the methods the
conspirators used were typical of absentee ballot fraud.
It became clear early in the campaign that the 1994 general
election for seats on the Greene County Commission would be a close
one. An incumbent commissioner, Nathan Roberson, had lost to
challenger William Johnson by just 16 votes in the primary run-off
election. After losing in the primary, Roberson requalified as a
member of the "Patriot Party" to oppose Johnson in the general
election. Absentee ballots had been the key
to victory in several of the Democratic primary races.
But even before Election Day 1994, there were signs that
something was awry in the absentee ballot process. The local
county newspaper, the Greene County Independent, reported on
November 3, five days before the election, that as the county was
"embroiled in one of the most hotly contested political races in
many years," the number of absentee ballots being sent out by the
local clerk was so high that they "could very well determine who
the next county commissioners" would be. Oddly, many of the
absentee ballots were not going to the registered addresses of the
voters. Some 60 of the ballots in one district alone were sent to
the same post office box. Ballots were also sent to
candidates' wives, the Greene County Democratic Executive
Committee, and the Greene County Sewer and Water Authority.
Absentee ballot fraud was not new to the area. In 1985, Spiver
Gordon, who would emerge as a key player in the 1994 fraud, was
convicted by a jury of absentee ballot fraud. Although the Eleventh
Circuit Court of Appeals found "that there was sufficient
evidence to support Spiver Whitney Gordon's convictions for mail
fraud arising from the mailing of fraudulently marked absentee
ballots," his convictions were reversed after the U.S. Supreme
Court ruled that the federal mail fraud statute under which he had
been convicted could be used only for schemes involving the
deprivation of money or property, not elections.
In 1994, the numbers alone were enough to raise suspicions.
Greene County had 7,736 registered voters. Turnout for the
November 8 election was heavy at 62 percent, or over 4,800. On the night of the election, over
1,400 absentee ballots flooded in-more than one-third of the total
ballots cast. More than 1,000 of the absentee
ballots were mailed by just five people "who brought in suitcases
of ballots to the Eutaw Post Office the day of election in 1994." Thus, over one-third of all votes
were cast with absentee ballots-far above the state average, which
is normally in the single digits, and a red flag for possible voter
Absentee ballots tipped several races. Garria Spencer,
chairman of the Greene County Commission, had won the Democratic
primary with absentee ballots. His opponent, Toice Goodson,
was "ahead by about 50 votes until the absentee ballots were
tallied and Spencer was declared the victor by two dozen votes." Absentee ballots cast in the
general election helped Frank "Pinto" Smith win the election to be
a county commissioner, while William Johnson, who had
challenged incumbent Nathan Roberson, lost due to absentee ballots.
Johnson received 409 votes at the polls to Roberson's 376, but just
65 absentee ballots to Robertson's 182.
Tax Assessor John Kennard was the first to sound the alarm that
the elections had been stolen. He called for state and federal
officials, as well as civil rights leaders, to come to Greene
County and ensure a fair election. State and federal
prosecutors answered that call and moved quickly to arrange
interviews with absentee voters.
The backlash-that federal and state investigators were
trying to intimidate African-American voters-was immediate. County
Commission Chairman Spencer, who later pled guilty to voter fraud,
said he was receiving complaints that the agents were trying to
frighten voters, who were "tired of being questioned." The chorus of criticism would
only rise as the investigation began to uncover evidence of
But those charges rang false within the county. Neither the
local probate judge, who was African- American, nor the circuit
court clerk received any complaints. Local voters interviewed by
the newspaper said that the agents were "very nice" and
"polite" and made clear that they did not feel "intimidated,
threatened, or targeted."
Indeed, most of the complaints to state and federal
agencies that had sparked the investigation had come from
African-American citizens in Greene County-not surprising in a
county that was 80 percent black-and a local multiracial
good-government group called Citizens for a Better Greene
County, which had been started to elect fiscally responsible
officials. On Election Day, the group
challenged the validity of hundreds of absentee ballots that
turned out to have been fraudulently cast. With
absentee ballots being stolen from people's mail-boxes and voters
being threatened with the loss of public assistance, Pam
Montgomery, one of the group's leaders, thought that "[t]hey
ought to send [envoys] here" rather than to Haiti.
Investigators went about their task diligently. They created a
computer database and sorted all of the absentee ballots cast
according to the names of the individuals who had witnessed the
signatures. They quickly found that many of the absentee
ballots "contained the same few witnesses' signatures over and
over again" and that some had been cast by voters who were actually
dead or no longer lived in the county. A decision was made
to limit the investigation "to only those ballots on which appeared
any witness who had witnessed more than 15 absentee ballots." This resulted in 800 voters who
needed to be interviewed, and the investigators employed a standard
interview format to determine the circumstances under which the
absentee ballot had been applied for and voted. That information
was reviewed, as was handwriting analysis of the absentee
ballot materials. The investigative procedures did not involve the
race or political affiliations of voters or the candidates in any
Still, the race-baiting continued. A group called the Alabama
Blackbelt Defense Committee was organized to raise money for legal
services for all of the defendants charged with voter fraud. Its
leaders, including Commission Chairman Spencer, claimed that
the investigation was intended to "discourage black voters in
Greene County and other blackbelt counties." The
prosecutions were simply an attempt by federal and state
officials to "frame" local black leaders.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
(NAACP) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference
(SCLC)-liberal civil rights groups that had not responded to
initial concerns about voter fraud-joined in these efforts,
helping to defend the individuals who stood accused of stealing the
election and leaning on the Justice Department to drop its
investigation altogether. According to Spiver Gordon, a Eutaw
city councilman and SCLC vice president, "This current case is an
extension of the harassment and intimidation carried out by
the FBI and state authorities…. It's an attempt to keep
Black people from exercising their constitutional rights and voting
rights." Gordon later pled guilty to voter
Despite all the racially charged rhetoric, it was clear from the
start that the defense effort, like the vote fraud, had a political
genesis. According to Tax Assessor Kennard, Spencer was part of a
local political machine, as was Greene County Director of
Planning and Development Booker Cooke, Jr., who also eventually
pled guilty to voter fraud. In fact, in 1996, Cooke, as chairman of
one of the local Democratic Party's committees, tried to
remove Kennard from the ballot as "disloyal" to the Democratic
Party, in addition to three other candidates who were not part of
the machine. One local resident said that the
members of the machine were very arrogant and believed they could
get away with anything.
The indictments issued in January of 1997 charging Commissioner
Smith and Connie Tyree, a county employee and Smith supporter, with
13 counts of ballot fraud illustrate how absentee ballots were
stolen and used to cast fraudulent votes in the 1994 election. In the two months before the
election, Smith and Tyree used registered voters' names to
apply for absentee ballots, used false addresses so that the
ballots would be sent directly to them, convinced some voters to
sign absentee ballot affidavits without actually filling out the
ballots, and forged voters' signatures on other
affidavits. The investigation revealed that
Smith and others involved in the voter fraud conspiracy
actually set up an "assembly line process" at the Eutaw
Activity Center the night before the election to fill out and
prepare the fraudulent absentee ballots before they were placed in
the mail the next day.
Smith and Tyree claimed on appeal that they were victims of
"selective prosecution" because they were black and Democrats, but
the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Atlanta, rejected
In 1998, six more individuals were indicted on 31 counts of
voter fraud for their role in the 1994 elections. Among them were
Booker Cooke, Jr., county employee Flephus Hardy, Commissioner
Spencer, Althenia Spencer, Racing Commissioner Lester "Bop" Brown,
and Spiver Gordon. The charges were similar to those brought
against Smith and Tyree, including furnishing false information to
election officials, voting more than once, and providing false
information on absentee ballot affidavits. Despite
their protestations of innocence and claims that the prosecutions
were "politically motivated…to silence those who
exercise their political right to elect political office holders of
their choice," all six eventually pled guilty.
By the end of the investigation, three more were indicted and
pled guilty, including a member of the local board of education,
for a total of 11 convictions and no acquittals. After the
convictions, local black leaders such as Probate Judge Earlean
Isaac (the county's chief election official) and John Kennard
expressed their relief. Isaac said that she hoped this meant that
in the future, they would only "see clean elections." Kennard
proclaimed it "a victory for the people…because now one vote
counts. The era of stolen elections is over for Greene County."
Making Race an Issue
The Greene County case illustrates the complete dichotomy
between the views of liberal civil rights organizations and those
of ordinary citizens, including African-Americans, on voter fraud
issues. A spokesman for the SCLC, Randel Osburn, said in 1998 that
the absentee ballot investigation and prosecutions in Greene County
amounted to "Gestapo tactics" and were a conspiracy to weaken the
black vote that was having a "chilling effect" on voters. Osburn said that the prosecutions
"must be seen in the context of a many-pronged attack on voting
rights and fair representation in this state."
But Greene County citizens and candidates, most of them
African-American, sharply disagreed. John Kennard held a press
conference at which he said that national and state SCLC leaders
were misinformed: "There were Gestapo tactics used, but it was
blacks terrorizing blacks in 1994. Let me show you one of the
victims of Gestapo tactics in 1994." Kennard then introduced Bill
Johnson, the candidate whose office was stolen in the 1994
election. As Kennard said, "Johnson did everything right. He won
the election in 1994-but there were those people who decided Bill
Johnson was not the black candidate they wanted for
Kennard also introduced Toice Goodson, another black candidate
who lost in the 1994 primary election because, as Kennard
said, Goodson was not the choice of the political machine running
the county. Kennard disputes the charge that
the prosecutions were an attack on voting rights. "Justice was
perverted here in Greene County" in 1994, he said, by the theft of
hundreds of votes using absentee balloting. For taking
this stand against voter fraud, Kennard was labeled "Chief Uncle
Tom" in anonymous leaflets distributed in Eutaw.
Organizations like the NAACP and the SCLC routinely claim that
voter fraud investigations and prosecutions intimidate black voters
and deter them from the polls, but Greene County citizens and
officials also disagree on this point. Commenting on the 1998
election, Judge Earlean Isaac could not understand the view of the
SCLC: "What are we saying if we hold up corruption? We can have a
fair and clean election in Greene County. [This year] voters are
not intimidated, they are not afraid to vote and they are not
afraid to vote by absentee ballot." She had not heard of
a single voter in the county who was fearful of voting because of
the federal and state investigation.
Nat Winn, a former member of the school board, said that the
only people who were feeling threatened were "the ones that
can't get out there and steal ballots." Many black voters
shared that sentiment, with one telling the local paper that
only "[t]he ones who committed the crimes are afraid." According to sources within the
investigation, one of the FBI agents was approached
during the investigation by an elderly black woman who took
the agent's hand in hers, prayed with him for the investigation to
be successful, and thanked him for what he was doing.
Voting in the 1998 election certainly showed that the citizens
of Greene County were not deterred from voting. Turnout in the
primary election was estimated at 57 percent, compared to
turnout of 25 percent to 30 percent elsewhere in the state. A total of 3,996 voted in the 1998
primary, compared to 3,861 in the 1994 primary.
The difference was in absentee ballots: 147 in 1998 versus 1,143
in 1994. In 1998, absentee ballots accounted
for only 4 percent of the total votes cast, which was more in
keeping with levels of absentee voting throughout Alabama. In the
general election, turnout was more than 70 percent,
considerably higher than in 1994. And this gain came despite a
massive drop in absentee ballots: Only around 200 were filed in
1998, more than 1,000 fewer than in 1994. Local election officials
said that the turnout proved that the voter fraud prosecutions did
not deter voters from the polls.
Remarkable in the Greene County case was the NAACP's defense of
the defendants who committed voter fraud. John Kennard, a
member of the NAACP, was outraged over the NAACP's
intercession on behalf of the voter fraud conspirators instead
of on behalf of the black candidates whose offices had been stolen.
He wrote a letter to Julian Bond, then Chairman of the NAACP,
complaining that NAACP funds were going towards "defending people
who knowingly and willingly participated in an
organized…effort to steal the 1994 election from other Black
candidates in Greene County." Kennard was very
Personally, I feel that if the NAACP sides with these six people
who stole election after election from the people of this county[,]
it is tantamount to the organization defending policemen that used
the fire hoses and dogs, and Eugene "Bull" Conner in Birmingham, in
the early 1960s.
Probate Judge Earlean Isaac, the county's chief election
official, complained that Bond never contacted her before the
NAACP launched its protest. She said that she did not "think they
want to find out what the facts are…. If they did they would
have looked at the records, or at least contacted the person in
charge of the elections. No one has requested a meeting with me."
Kennard said that the indicted commissioners and county employees
were hiding behind the racial issue because they "knew that they
had a fail-safe way out, when all else fails…cry racism,
intimidation and pretend they are the victims when they were the
perpetrators of this crime."
Despite the investigation and outreach efforts by local black
officials, the NAACP did not change its stance. In fact, Bond
responded with a letter to Kennard "basically telling him to
mind his own business." Bond said that
"sinister forces" were behind the prosecutions and were "part and
parcel of an ongoing attempt to stifle black voting strength." He
dismissed Kennard's claim that the prosecutions were a legitimate
effort to uncover a criminal conspiracy directed at thwarting
black voters' rights to elect candidates of their own choosing.
Bond said that the accused were "friends and old colleagues" and
that he had to "stand by them in their hour of need." Kennard
wondered whether Bond and the NAACP were more interested in
defending their friends than in finding out the truth of the crimes
that their friends had committed.
The seeming tolerance of some liberal civil rights organizations
for voter fraud committed against black candidates and black voters
is disappointing. Spiver Gordon, who lost his seat as a Eutaw city
councilman after he pled guilty to felony voter fraud, was,
according to the U.S. Attorney and his own plea agreement, one of
the "leaders and organizers of voter fraud" in Greene
County. Yet Gordon remains an officer
of the SCLC, serving as treasurer of its national board.
Unlike the SCLC, Greene County came out ahead from the
vote-fraud investigation and prosecutions. One former resident
of Greene County told me that "there was so much corruption in the
county government and votes had been stolen in elections for so
long that there was general lack of confidence that anything would
be done about it or that anyone would actually be prosecuted,"
something that was extremely discouraging to county
residents. This corruption led directly to the
bankruptcy of the county government, damaging the economy of the
county and the welfare of its residents. Pam Montgomery of Citizens
for a Better Greene County says that the voter fraud
convictions were absolutely essential to cleaning up the
county government and setting Greene County on the road to
Lessons from Greene County
One of the most important lessons of the Greene County
prosecutions is how vulnerable absentee ballots are to voter fraud.
They are voted in unmonitored settings where there is no election
official or independent observer present to ensure that the
registered voter is actually the person voting and that there
is no illegal coercion.
"No-fault" absentee ballot laws-that is, laws that allow any
registered voter to use an absentee ballot for any or no reason-and
the growing movement toward all-mail elections threaten electoral
integrity. Absentee ballots make it much easier for corrupt
campaign organizations and candidates (like those in Greene County)
to manipulate the vote. They are able to engage in tactics such as
requesting absentee ballots in the names of registered voters,
particularly poor residents and senior citizens, and either
intimidating them into casting votes or fraudulently
completing their ballots for them. In addition to the Greene
County prosecutions, these practices have been documented in other
cases, such as the 2003 Democratic mayoral primary election in East
Chicago, Indiana, that was overturned by the Indiana Supreme
Court due to absentee ballot fraud.
The typical absentee ballot fraud follows this methodology:
- The fraud begins with the vote-fraud conspirator filing an
application requesting an absentee ballot for a voter either by
forging the voter's signature on the application or obtaining the
voter's signature through coercion, trickery, or bribery.
Applications are freely distributed to anyone who asks for them, so
this gives offenders easy and ready access to the forms needed
to obtain ballots.
- Upon receipt of the application, the election official mails
the absentee ballot and the voter affidavit to the mailing address
listed on the application, which is either the true voter's
address or an address controlled by the conspirator.
- Since election officials usually post the names of registered
voters who have been sent absentee ballots (and the date on which
the ballots were sent), the conspirator knows when the mailed
ballots will arrive and can intercept them; in other cases, the
absentee ballots are sent to addresses directly controlled by the
- The absentee ballot is completed by the conspirator and
the voter's signature forged, or the voter signs and completes the
ballot as directed, or some combination thereof.
- The ballot is then either mailed or hand-delivered by the
conspirator to the election official.
Greene County illustrates one of the key indicators of
absentee ballot fraud for election and law enforcement officials:
turnout (particularly by absentee ballots) that is dramatically in
excess of other jurisdictions. It is true that historical election
data show that different states and regions of the country have
differing levels of turnout, and certainly local races of
interest may spur turnout in, for example, one particular county
when compared to other counties in the same state or area.
However, an absentee ballot rate in a town or county several
times higher than the average rate for the state is an early sign
of possible fraud in the absentee balloting process that
should be investigated. Another indication of fraud is multiple
ballots witnessed by the same person (such as Connie Tyree in
The Greene County case also shows how vital it is that
prosecutors vigorously investigate the claims of absentee ballot
fraud not only to ensure a secure and fair election process, but
also to maintain public confidence and root out corruption in
local government. According to an experienced federal
prosecutor, voter fraud by incumbents is a sure sign that the local
government is engaging in corrupt practices.
Ensuring the Integrity of
These lessons about the means of absentee ballot fraud suggest a
number of common-sense measures to ensure the integrity of
- To reverse the trends of "no-fault" absentee voting and
all-mail elections, absentee ballots should be reserved for
individuals who cannot vote in person at their assigned polling
place on Election Day or at early voting sites prior to the
election. Absentee ballots are appropriate for individuals who are
too ill or disabled to vote in person, as well as voters who have
legitimate reasons why they cannot vote in person, such as soldiers
stationed overseas, but they should not be available just for
convenience's sake, because the risk of fraud is too high. As an
alternative, many states have early voting statutes that allow
in-person voting at government-run polling places for a certain
amount of time prior to Election Day. From an election integrity
standpoint, early voting is a much safer alternative to
expanded absentee balloting.
- To increase the difficulty of fraudulent voting with
absentee ballots, individuals submitting absentee ballots
should be required to provide a copy of an identification document
containing a photograph (e.g., a driver's license) with their
absentee ballots. While it is relatively easy to forge a voter's
signature on an absentee ballot, it is more difficult for a
vote-fraud conspirator to provide a photocopy of the voter's
identification. In fact, William Johnson, who narrowly missed out
on a seat on the Greene County Commission in 1994 due to fraudulent
absentee ballots but won in 1998, threw his support behind a
voter-identification bill in the Alabama legislature.
- To deter the forgery of voter signatures, the signatures
on absentee ballots should be either notarized or witnessed by at
least two other individuals who provide their addresses and
telephone numbers, and the number of voter signatures that any
single individual is allowed to witness should be limited. For most
jurisdictions, though, signature verification will be a last
resort because it is too difficult for untrained clerks to perform.
In Greene County, for example, FBI handwriting experts were
needed to detect the forged signatures. In many
jurisdictions, election officials-overwhelmed by the sheer
number of absentee ballots-do not even attempt signature
verification. Nonetheless, these steps would make forgery both more
difficult and easier to detect in any post-election law-enforcement
- To help detect fraud, states that have "no-fault" or
relaxed absentee ballot rules should require voters wishing to cast
mail-in ballots to provide a sample of their signatures at least
every five years. This would ensure that election officials had an
up-to-date specimen of the voter's signature that could be compared
with an absentee ballot affidavit signature.
- To prevent intimidation and fraud, unrelated third
parties, including campaign workers and candidates, should be
prohibited from delivering absentee ballots. The appearance of
vote brokers at the Eutaw post office with 1,000 fraudulent
absentee ballots illustrates why state laws should allow only
voters, their immediate family members, or their caregivers to
deliver absentee ballots either to the post office or directly to
- To avoid deterring prosecutions and damaging public
confidence, civil rights organizations and others should
refrain from leaping to the conclusion that voter fraud
investigations are politically or racially motivated. The evidence
from Greene County demonstrates that voter fraud prosecutions
do not deter citizens from voting; in fact, the result was quite
the opposite as citizens gained trust in their electoral
Absentee Ballot Fraud Today
The Greene County case is relevant today because there is reason
to fear that certain features of the vote-fraud conspiracy may play
out again in the 2008 elections. Despite the convictions and guilty
pleas in Greene County, neither the NAACP nor the SCLC has ever
admitted that its claims that the investigations were racist and
politically motivated were wrong and, as should have been
apparent at the time, completely specious. This gives rise to
concern that similar strategies might be employed in the coming
election to discourage the investigation and prosecution of schemes
to disenfranchise vulnerable voters.
Already this year, strong allegations of absentee ballot fraud,
executed just as in Greene County, have been levied in several
Alabama counties, with local officials (some of whom are suspects)
claiming once again that the "inquiries are motivated by
racism and partisanship." In the 2008 Perry
County primary, for example, a quarter of the county's
citizens voted by absentee ballot, the highest percentage
in the state and six times the state average. Turnout exceeded 50
percent, compared to 16 percent in the rest of the state. Witnesses allege that Perry County
absentee ballots were exchanged for cash, crack cocaine, and other
inducements (including driveway gravel) and that honest voters
appeared at the polling place only to be told that absentee ballots
had already been cast in their names. Both the Alabama
Secretary of State and the Alabama Attorney General are
There is a special historical resonance to these allegations.
Perry County was one of the flash points of the voting rights
movement. During the Civil Rights-era struggle to register black
voters, a protester in Perry County was fatally shot, inspiring the
"Bloody Sunday" march over Selma's Edmund Pettus Bridge. Today, not
only do African-Americans vote there; they run for office-and
win. Elected African-American officials have controlled local
government in Perry County and neighboring counties of the Black
Belt for decades. But now the region's black voters face a new
obstacle to self-determination: the threat of disenfranchisement by
vote fraud. "A generation ago, civil rights leaders in West Alabama
overcame entrenched power structures," observed the
Tuscaloosa News. "What a sad irony it would be if that
system were simply replaced by another undemocratic process."
Already, there have been claims that this investigation is
simply a plot by Republicans "to suppress the black vote." In the same way that honest Greene
County officials sought to convince federal law enforcers and
liberal civil rights organizations that the investigations of the
1994 election were legitimate and needed, Perry County's district
attorney, Michael W. Jackson, who is a Democrat and the first
black to be elected to the post, has called for a federal
investigation focusing on absentee ballots because their sheer
number was "suspicious" and "we want to make sure candidates and
the public have a fair process."
In the final analysis, the importance of the Greene County
investigations and prosecutions to the county's citizens and civil
fabric cannot be overstated. Though the distracting noise of
partisan wrangling and race-baiting may have drowned out that point
on the national stage, it remains clear to those who live in Greene
County. The local paper explained it well:
Bankruptcy and the hopelessness of the people, because of the
corruption at high levels, can be reversed now that stealing
elections is no longer an accepted way of life and justice has
This beautiful county, whose promise was overshadowed by
corruption and greed at the hands of those who gained public office
and power by theft and deception, can finally set some healthy
goals and move toward economic growth and a period of prosperity.
The next chapter in Greene County's history will be what honestly
elected men and women make it. It will be what the people of this
county make it, without the fear that the ballot brokers will be
ringing people's door bells…when another election rolls
Hans A. von Spakovsky
served as a member of the Federal Election Commission for two
years. Before that, he was Counsel to the Assistant Attorney
General for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department
of Justice, where he specialized in voting and election issues. He
also served as a county election official in Georgia for five years
as a member of the Fulton County Board of Registration and
 Emily Wagster Pettus, Miss. Secretary
of State Says Voter Fraud Hurts Poor People, Assoc. Press, Apr.
 Fla. Dep't. of Law Enforcement, Florida
Voter Fraud Issues: Report And Observations 7 (1998).
 The Miami Herald won a Pulitzer Prize in
1999 for its investigation of the voter fraud in the Miami mayoral
election and in doing so used innovative computer technology from
SAS to assist its reporters in tracking down illegal votes through
software comparisons of voter rolls with property records,
city personnel files, absentee witness lists, death certificates,
and felony conviction records. This is a lesson for election
officials on how they should be using technology and software to
maintain clean voter rolls, deter fraud, and check the validity and
authenticity of voter registration applications. See Miami
Herald Wins Pulitzer Prize, http://www.sas.com/news/success/miamiherald.html
(last visited Sept. 2, 2008).
 Roger Thurow, Southern Cross: A Place
Much Revered in Civil-Rights Lore Is Still Much Divided, Wall
St. J., July 20, 1998.
 U.S. Census Bureau, Greene County
(last visited Sept. 2, 2008). See Magistrate Judge's
Report and Recommendation, U.S. v. Smith, No. CR-97-S-45-W, at 1, 2
(N.D. Ala. 1997) (stating that Greene county had "a 92%
African-American population") [hereinafter Magistrate's
 U.S. Census Bureau, Greene County
MapStats, supra note 6.
 Robert DeWitt, Greene County
Out of Bankruptcy, Tuscaloosa News, Oct. 22, 2006.
 The Assistant U.S. Attorney assigned to
the case was Pat Meadows, a career prosecutor with over 25 years of
experience as a federal prosecutor and a local Assistant District
Attorney; Alabama Assistant Attorney General Gregory Biggs was
designated as a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney to assist with the
case. The primary FBI agent leading the investigation was Marshall
Ridlehoover. See Magistrate's Report, supra note 6,
 Leewanna Parker, Absentee Ballot the
Trump Card, Greene County Indep., Nov. 3, 1994.
 Leewanna Parker, Questions Remain
About Election, Greene County Indep., Nov. 10, 1994; Leewanna
Parker, Federal, State Absentee Ballot Probe May Continue Many
Months, Greene County Indep., Apr. 3, 1996. County Tax Assessor
John Kennard actually called the FBI in September of 1994 to
complain that "a significant number of absentee ballots had been
mailed to addresses that were not the voters' addresses."
Magistrate's Report, supra note 6, at 7, 8.
 See U.S. v. Gordon, 836 F.2d
1312 (11 Cir. 1988), cert. denied, 487 U.S. 1265 (1988);
McNally v. U.S., 483 U.S. 350 (1987) (holding that 18 U.S.C. §
1341 does not proscribe a scheme or artifice to defraud the
citizenry of the intangible right to honest government). In 1988,
Congress enacted 18 U.S.C. § 1346 in response to the McNally
decision to prohibit schemes meant to deprive citizens of the
"intangible right of honest services." See U.S. Dep't of
Just., Crim. Div., Pub. Integrity Sec., Federal Prosecution of
Election Offenses 74 (2007). Having gotten away with absentee
ballot fraud in 1985 on technical grounds, Gordon was clearly not
deterred from engaging in fraud once again in the 1994
 Leewanna Parker, Election 1994: Hot
Local Races Decided at Polls, Absentee Boxes, Greene County
Indep., Nov. 10, 1994.
 Exactly 1,429 absentee ballots were
cast, representing 37 percent of all votes cast in the county.
Fewer than 40 absentee ballots were cast by white voters.
Magistrate's Report, supra note 6, at 3-4.
 Leewanna Parker, Six to Face Voter
Fraud Charges in Federal Court, Greene County Indep., Feb. 18,
 Parker, Absentee Ballot the Trump
Card, supra note 10.
 Magistrate's Report, supra note
6, at 6.
 Parker, Election 1994: Hot Local
Races Decided at Polls, Absentee Boxes, supra note 14.
Johnson filed suit to contest the results of the election. Leewanna
Parker, Bill Johnson Files Election Contest Against
Roberson, Greene County Indep., Dec. 1, 1994.
 Parker, Questions Remain About
Election, supra note 12. In 1978, Kennard was the first
black elected to be the Tax Assessor. Thurow, supra note
 Leewanna Parker, Spencer Says He's
Fielding Complaints from Worried Voters, Greene County Indep.,
Mar. 13, 1996.
 Id. See also Leewanna
Parker, Voters Calling Agents 'Polite', Greene County
Indep., Mar. 13, 1996.
 Citizens for a Better Greene County had
about 600 members, and its bylaws mandated that its Board of
Directors be composed of four individuals: a black man and
woman and a white man and woman. Magistrate's Report, supra
note 6, at 5; DeWitt, supra note 8.
 Leewanna Parker, More Indictments to
Come, Locals Say, Greene County Indep., Feb. 1, 1997. The
Greene County case demonstrates the importance of state challenge
laws, which have been attacked (unsuccessfully) in litigation in
Ohio as supposedly "unconstitutional."
 Rich Lowry, Early and Often-Absentee
Voting Fraud, Nat'l Rev., June 17, 1996.
 Parker, Federal, State Absentee
Ballot Probe May Continue Many Months, supra note
 Magistrate's Report, supra note
6, at 11.
 Leewanna Parker, Probe Reactivates
Black Belt Committee, Greene County Indep., Mar. 20, 1996.
 Leewanna Parker, Democrats Appeal to
State Party Chairman for Relief, Greene County Indep., May 1,
1996. One of the candidates had opposed Commission Chairman Garria
Spencer in the 1994 election. The Alabama Democratic Party
overruled the local Greene County Democratic Party and
reinstated the candidates on the ballot. Leewanna Parker, Ruling
Spurs Reordering of Ballots, Greene County Indep., May 22,
 Interview with Pam Montgomery, July 28,
2008. When Commission Chairman Garria Spencer was first indicted,
Montgomery overheard Spencer tell a federal prosecutor during
court proceedings that "you ain't going to get us-we are
 Smith was a deputy registrar as well as
the mother of one of Smith's children. Government's Sentencing
Memorandum, U.S. v. Smith, No. CR-97-S-0045-W, at 1, 12, 14 (N.D.
 Tyree's signature appeared as a witness
on 166 absentee ballots-more than any other person. Magistrate's
Report at 6. See Indictment, U.S. v. Smith,
No. CR-97-S-0045-W, at 3-5 (N.D. Ala. 1997); Parker, More
Indictments to Come, Locals Say, supra note 24.
 Government's Sentencing Memorandum,
U.S. v. Smith, No. CR-97-S-0045-W, at 11 (N.D. Ala. 1997).
County Commission Chairman Garria Spencer and Eutaw City Councilman
Spiver Gordon were among the persons present. Transcript of Trial,
U.S. v. Smith, No. CR-97-S-0045-W, at 1200 (N.D. Ala.
 U.S. v. Smith, 231 F.3d 800 (11 Cir.
2000), cert. denied, 532 U.S. 1019 (2001).
 Parker, Election 1994, supra
 Id. See also Press
Release, G. Douglas Jones, U.S. Att'y, Northern District of Ala., 6
Greene County Residents Plead Guilty to Federal Voter Fraud (Feb.
26, 1999); Leewanna Parker, Six Admit Guilt in '94 Vote Fraud
Conspiracy, Greene County Indep., Mar. 3, 1999.
 Id. Additional unindicted
conspirators aided and abetted the voter fraud, including Cora
Stewart, Jennifer Watkins, and Burnette Hutton. See
Government's Sentencing Memorandum, U.S. v. Smith, No.
CR-97-S-0045-W, at 3-7 (N.D. Ala. 1997).
 Leewanna Parker, Gestapo Was Vote
Thieves, Greene County Indep., June 3, 1998.
 Thurow, Southern Cross,
supra note 5.
 Parker, Gestapo Was Vote
Thieves, supra note 40.
 Leewanna Parker, Voters Showed No
Hesitation in Casting Ballots, Greene County Indep., June 10,
1998. Some officials said the 57 percent figure was too low because
they believed the voter registration list had between 600 and 1,000
listed voters who were not eligible to vote in Greene County.
 Gita M. Smith, Alabama County
Votes for Change: Fund Misuse, Fraud Targeted in Election,
Atlanta J. Const., June 6, 1998, at C3.
 Leewanna Parker, Voter Fraud Trial
Begins Mar. 1, Greene County Indep., Feb. 24, 1999.
 Frank Smith and Connie Tyree were
defended by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the NAACP Legal Defense
& Educational Fund, and Pamela Karlan of Stanford Law School.
Smith, 231 F.3d at 804. NAACP officials and other civil
rights leaders also met with Attorney General Janet Reno protesting
the vote fraud investigation. See Thurow, Southern
Cross, supra note 5.
 Leewanna Parker, NAACP to Hear
Another Side of County's Voter Fraud Story, Greene County
Indep., July 29, 1998.
 Leewanna Parker, Bond Reaffirms
Alignment to Local Voter Fraud Defendants, Greene County
Indep., Aug. 19, 1998.
 Press Release, G. Douglas Jones,
supra note 38, at 4.
 Interview with Elizabeth George, July
 Interview with Pam Montgomery, July 28,
 Pabey v. Pastrick, 816 N.E.2d 1138
 This prosecutor requested not to be
identified because he is a current government employee.
 Leewanna Parker, Locals Among State
Voter ID Proponents, Greene County Indep., Jan. 21, 1998.
 Oregon has all-mail elections, and
officials there claim that signature matching when ballots are
received prevents voter fraud. However, signature analysis is a
skill that requires extensive training; cannot be taught to the
average election worker in the limited time available; and, other
than for the most blatant forgeries, cannot be effective in the few
seconds that election workers have to compare signatures on each of
the hundreds of thousands of ballots they receive.
 Adam Nossiter, Officials Investigate
3 Alabama Counties in Voter Fraud Accusations, N.Y. Times, July
 Id.; Chris Rizo, King Laments
Voter Fraud in Alabama, LegalNewsline.com, June 29, 2008. A
former Circuit Clerk in Hale County has been indicted for 13 counts
of absentee ballot fraud involving the 2004 and 2005 elections of
her ex-husband, a state senator. Former Hale County
Circuit Clerk Arrested on Voter Fraud Charges, Assoc. Press,
Mar. 18, 2008. This latest case seems to be a repeat of prior voter
fraud in Hale County that occurred at the same time as the Greene
County case when Alabama Assistant Attorney General Greg Biggs
obtained convictions of the local chief of police on multiple
counts of voter fraud, forgery in the second degree, and possession
of forged instruments (absentee ballots). Interview with Greg
Biggs, Apr. 22, 2008.
 Kim Chandler, Big Absentee Numbers
in Small Counties Questioned, Birmingham News, June 23, 2008;
Secretary of State: Voter Fraud Allegations Flooding In
(WSFA-12 News broadcast Jun. 12, 2008); Chapman Receives
Complaint of Voter Fraud in Perry, Assoc. Press, July 17,
 Light, Not Heat, in Hale County,
Tuscaloosa News, Oct. 9, 2007.
 Nossiter, supra note 65.
 Editorial, Turn the Page, Greene
County Indep., Mar. 3, 1999.