Valdosta Daily Times

September 25, 2013

Quitman 11 trial gets under way

The Valdosta Daily Times

QUITMAN — Underneath the Latin inscription Fiat Justitia Ruat Caelum – Let Justice Be Done Though The Heavens Fall — the trial of Lula Smart got underway Tuesday morning at the downtown Brooks County Courthouse.

Smart, part of the “Quitman 11” who were charged with multiple counts of unlawful possession of ballots in relation to the July 2010 Brooks County school board primary election, is charged with 25 counts of illegal possession of ballots and six counts of interfering with an elector. One count of each was dropped Tuesday, leaving 24 counts of illegal possession of ballots and five counts of interfering with an elector.

Initial charges came after school board candidates lost the election at the polling places then won their respective races via absentee ballots. Though charged in the case, these school board officials served, then couldn't serve for several months due to the charges, then were reinstated to the board. Originally, these suspects were called the Quitman 10 then two more people were charged prompting the title Quitman 10+2. One suspect has since passed away.

The case has attracted statewide and national attention from civil rights groups since the Quitman 11 suspects are African-American, defeated white opponents, and placed the black school board members into the majority for the first time.

After opening statements that brought into question just how much a campaigner can assist an elector with an absentee ballot, Chevine King, attorney for the defense, and Clara Bucci, prosecution, questioned the case's first witness, Chris Williams, former investigator for the Georgia Secretary of State who, along with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, investigated the first reports the secretary received concerning the case.

For more than three hours, King and Bucci examined, cross-examined, re-directed and re-examined Williams. Williams arrived in Brooks County in late July 2010, having been assigned the case after 29 complaints of voter fraud came into the Secretary of State's office. Many of the concerned voters arrived at polling places on Election Day only to be told that they had already voted with absentee ballots.

Williams, along with other Secretary of State agents and GBI agents, put together a 16-question questionnaire, then went into the community to contact absentee voters. The questions were all centered around the absentee voting process: Did you register an absentee ballot? How did you receive your application for the absentee ballot? What did you do with the

ballot? Did anyone assist you?

King focused on the questionnaire and the process of going through it with absentee voters in his cross-examination, with Williams conceding that they obtained no physical proof from absentee voters of tampering, but stating that he believed the number and similarity of the complaints were relevant.

King also parsed the wording of the Georgia law 21-2-385, covering the proper delivery of sealed absentee ballots. One of the central questions of the case is whether Smart handled sealed absentee ballots, delivering them for electors. Georgia Law 21-2-385 states that “the elector shall then mail or personally deliver” their absentee ballot, with an exception made for disabled electors allowing members of their family or people they share a residence with to make the delivery.

With the first day behind it, the trial will most likely continue through the week, if not through the next.