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Privilege At The Polling Place

This is meant to be heartwarming: Former President George H. W. Bush voted today, and his spokesman Jim McGrath shared a touching photo of the moment.

This is meant to be heartwarming:

Former President George H. W. Bush voted today, and his spokesman Jim McGrath shared a touching photo of the moment.

Jim Baker served as U.S. Secretary of State (1989-1992) and then White House Chief of Staff (1992-1993) under Bush; they have been friends since the late 1950s.

Jim Baker served as U.S. Secretary of State (1989-1992) and then White House Chief of Staff (1992-1993) under Bush; they have been friends since the late 1950s.

But what's Baker doing? Is he helping the 94-year-old, wheelchair-bound former president to vote?

That's fine with me -- but in some parts of the country, if you're African-American, helping someone to vote can lead to criminal charges:

A Quitman[, Georgia,] resident named Lula Smart faced 32 felony counts that could have carried more than a hundred years in prison, largely for charges of carrying envelopes containing completed absentee ballots to the mailbox for voters....

Another Quitman resident, Debra Dennard, faced two felony charges of voter fraud for helping her father fill out his absentee ballot. Her father, David Dennard, is missing both legs and is partially blind. Mr. Dennard says that with his daughter’s assistance he voted for just who he wanted to without any coercion or meddling. “All she did was help me—just as she helps me with almost everything,” the father told me last year. “I knew who I wanted to vote for, and I signed the ballot myself.”

... four years after the election in question ... a jury in Quitman cleared Lula Smart on every count against her.... A dozen arrests netted not a single conviction or plea deal in Quitman.

Also:

It took a South Georgia jury just 20 minutes to find Olivia Pearson not guilty.

But the speedy verdict last month came at the end of a case that dragged on for years and came to be viewed by some as a blatant attempt to intimidate minority voters in a rural region of Georgia.


↓ Story continues below ↓

Pearson -- the first black woman to be elected to the Douglas City Commission, where she has served for 18 years -- was initially accused of multiple felonies tied to the 2012 presidential election.

While the case became complex, the facts were straightforward. During early voting in Coffee County, a first-time voter was not sure how to use the voting machine. Pearson, who was at the polls, showed her how the machine worked and signed a form as part of the process.

That action led to a three-year investigation by the Georgia State Election Board and the felony charges pursued by the local prosecutor. Three other people were also criminally charged with voting fraud in the 2012 election, and they opted for a plea deal instead of risking a trial.

If a photo like the one above featured two black people, it could be used as evidence in a criminal trial in some parts of America.

Also relevant is what this black woman saw in a white precinct in Mississippi:

Pam Johnson, a legislative campaign consultant, can’t forget what she witnessed as a poll watcher in 2011 in north Mississippi. A white couple in worn clothes shuffled into the rural precinct.

“I came to vote her,” announced the husband, proceeding to direct his wife to the voting machine. At every voting station in the precinct, Johnson saw a white husband standing alongside a white wife as she voted. Johnson objected to the violation of the women’s privacy. The precinct workers shrugged. That’s simply how it was done.

A comment on this from a liberal white woman in North Carolina:

And, of course:

To sum up: It's okay for Poppy Bush to get voting help from his best bud. It's okay for white women to be guided (possibly away from votes for Democrats) by their menfolk. But if you're black and you help someone vote, even if you're not exercising any influence on the choices, you might be brought up on charges.

(Hat tip: Warren Terra and Tom Hilton.)

Crossposted at No More Mr. Nice Blog

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