“Voting the names of the dead, and the nonexistent, and the too-mentally-impaired to function, cancels out the votes of citizens who are exercising their rights —- that's suppression by any light,” he said. “If you doubt it exists, I don't; I've heard the peddlers of these ballots brag about it, I've been asked to provide the funds for it, and I am confident it has changed at least a few close local election results.”
SUMMARY: Voter fraud allegations emerge with almost every election cycle in Alabama, and some have led to convictions. But when it comes to the things Davis said he witnessed – people bragging about voter fraud and soliciting participation –- the allegations are impossible to prove. Davis won’t name names. Nor will he talk about whether he reported the alleged voter fraud to the proper authorities.
ANALYSIS: Davis, who represented Alabama’s 7th District in Congress for eight years, retired from Alabama politics after losing the race for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2010. He’s now a partner in the Washington offices of the law firm SNR Denton.
As a Democrat in Congress, Davis opposed efforts to make photo ID a part of the voting process. (Such efforts are usually made at the state level, anyway, but the issue did come up during the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act in 2006.) In his Oct. 17 column, Davis said he regretted his opposition to voter ID.
“When I was a congressman, I took the path of least resistance on this subject for an African American politician,” he wrote.
Far more serious than his own mea culpa, however, was his statement that he’d “heard the peddlers of … ballots trying to brag about it” and that he’d “been asked to provide funds for it.” If Davis heard people bragging about voter fraud, who were those people, and have they been prosecuted? Did Davis report those people to the proper authorities – and if not, why not?
In a telephone interview, Davis repeatedly declined to give the names of anyone he suspected of voter fraud.
“I don’t think that anybody who has lived in the state of Alabama over the past 10 years doubts that voter fraud exists,” he said. “If people think that voter ID is too big an ax to deal with this problem, then that’s their right.”
Davis said a number of groups opposed to the voter ID law have been circulating talking points in opposition to Davis’ article. He suggested that The Star had received those talking points.
“This is the best way to answer,” he said. “I knew they would say, ‘ask him if he would name the people involved in this, ask him if he was a prosecutor, why didn’t he report it.’”
Davis’ suggestion was the first any Star reporter had heard of a set of talking points. Asked what groups were circulating talking points against him, Davis again declined to name names.
David Weigel, a political reporter from the online magazine Slate, also asked Davis to name the names of his voter-fraud-committing acquaintances. Davis snubbed Weigel, too.
Weigel said he hadn’t seen any talking points on the topic either. Weigel called Davis because the column sparked his curiosity.
“The reason I asked was that I wanted to get ahead of the story,” Weigel wrote in an email. “If Davis was actually going to name names and become a prominent advocate, it would have been good material for a profile.”
In his Advertiser column, Davis said voter fraud is particularly problematic in the Black Belt. It’s true that the mostly rural, mostly black counties of western Alabama seem to generate the most accusations of voter fraud. In the 1990s, several people were indicted, and six pleaded guilty, in a Greene County voter fraud scandal emerging from the 1994 elections. More recently, two Hale County women in 2009 pleaded guilty to possession of a forged instrument –- a lesser charge in a case that began with accusations of voter fraud in a 2006 special election.
In 2008, the Department of Justice monitored June primaries in Bullock, Lowndes and Perry counties, and later the state attorney general’s office seized voting records there for investigation –- all after a local group produced affidavits alleging voter fraud in the area. News stories from the time, on National Public Radio and in The New York Times, quote local residents saying they’d been approached by people who wanted to buy their vote or otherwise participate in voter fraud.
People quoted in those news accounts indicated that the problem was widespread. The same sources said voter fraud is hard to prosecute because most residents aren’t willing to talk openly about it.
In fact, NPR quoted Alabama Secretary of State Beth Chapman urging people to come forward to talk about specific instances of voter fraud.
“If you call us and say so-and-so's doing this, we need that information, but you've got to give me times, you've got to give me dates, and you've got to give me places,” Chapman said in 2008.
If the former congressman’s accusations are true, you can add Artur Davis to the list of people who know about voter fraud, but are reluctant to talk specifics.