In 2013 Lee Garrison is running for The Chair of The School Board. In 1998 Walter Maddox wasn’t the Mayor and Lee Garrison was attempting to flex some student voting bloc muscle, the same that had elected him as an undergraduate at the University of Alabama ( with the help of his former wife Jessica, who had been SGA President ) to the City Council, to prevent the School Board from being an elected body.
By Lisa P. Elliot, published in Tuscaloosa News 10-21-1998:
TUSCALOOSA- City Councilman Lee Garrison is getting hundreds of university students to register to vote in the November 3 Tuscaloosa referendum on an elected school board.
Garrison delivered an estimated total of 700 voter registration forms to the board of registrars in two trips this week, one just before 5 PM Monday and a second early Tuesday morning, said Margie Fields, Chairman of the Board of Registrars.
Garrison, a first-term Councilman who was elected in part because he marshaled the votes of University sorority and fraternity members, has drawn criticism for his latest move from the Tuscaloosa County Board of Registrars and those campaigning for an elected school board.
Some who favor an elected city school board, which is one of the referendum questions on the November 3 ballot, believe the Tuscaloosa City Council placed a straw poll on alcohol sales on the ballot to draw out student voters who would help defeat an elected school board.
“It’s no coincidence that the nonbinding referendum votes include alcohol sales. That would be the single most motivating factor to bring college students to the polls,” said Walter Maddox, local director of the Alabama Educational Association.
The state teachers union who helped draft the legislation calling for the referendum is campaigning for an elected board in Tuscaloosa. “It is also no coincidence that Mr. Garrison. who serves on the City Council, is registering voters to vote not only on the alcohol issue but also on the elected board referendum,” Maddox said. “I would imagine that Mr. Garrison is instructing the students to vote against an elected school board.”
Garrison has made no secret that he favors and appointed city school board, but he denied that he has told students how to vote.
“Right now there is not a student position on the issue, but I plan to educate them the night before the election at a town hall meeting.” Garrison said. “I will also be publishing editorials to show the pros and cons in the newsletter that I send to the voters in my district every four months. ”
He dismissed the criticism that students have no interest in the city schools because they don’t have children in the system, noting that many students stay in Tuscaloosa and raise their families here when they get older.
“When my kids are going through the system 10 to 20 years from now what we decide on November 3 will definitely impact them,” Garrison said.
“The stack of registration forms itself is between six and seven inches tall. And that’s a problem,” Fields said, “because all of the forms need to be entered into the computer by midnight on Friday in order to print the the voter list needed before the first day of absentee voting begins at 8 a.m. Saturday.”
Counting Fields there are three registrars and one clerk working in the Tuscaloosa County Board of Registrars.
“We will have to work, work, work until they are all in,” Fields said, “if we cannot get them all in, there may be registered voters who will not appear on the voter list.”
There are only 12 blanks on the voter registration form to be typed in. Fields explained, but it takes a long time because the registrars have to look up voting districts for each of the races by hand. Depending on the address, that could include congressional, senate, legislative, school board, state board of education, county commission and city council districts, as well as voting wards and boxes.
But Garrison said that’s part of the job.
“They have a busy time from what I understand, every two years when election time comes up,” Garrison said. “And it’s going to be busy. In any profession there are times of the year when people are more busy and that’s just their job and they should just deal with it.”
Garrison said Fields made him feel he was doing something wrong when he dropped the forms off.
“When I walked in there to give them the form she said, ‘Why didn’t you get them in earlier?’,” he said.
“If anything they should be happy that I am doing the voter drive,” he said. “They shouldn’t deter anybody from registering. I’m sure it’s not the attitude that the state office would want them to portray, or any other taxpayer that pays their salary would want.”
The head of Alabama voter registration says that’s not the issue “We’re all for them being registered, absolutely,” State Director of Voter Registration Anita Tatum said. “The only thing is that the Tuscaloosa County registers are very short-handed and I think the board of registrars is staffed with only three registrars and one clerk. Montgomery, the fourth largest county has five clerks.
“This close to the election they are going to get an influx of people who register to vote anyway. We are one of the only states in the United States with a 10-day registration cut off, ” Tatum said. “Make no mistake, we are thrilled to death to have the additional voters. But it would have been a lot more considerate if the forms have been brought in sooner. ”
Fields said a voter registration application should be turned in the day after the applicant signs it, noting that several brought in by Garrison has been signed in September and early October. Registar Cleo Knox said she personally asked Garrison to make sure the forms didn’t come in at the last minute.
Garrison said he didn’t purposely wait, explaining that he had other people working for him to do the registration and that he only got all the forms back on Friday. “I have begged my people to get them in as soon as possible because of the registration deadline,” he said.
Fields said that it appears most of the registrations turned in at the last minute were from college students. Many of the addresses are fraternity and sorority houses, UA dorms or housing near campus. She noted that most of the birthdates fall between the 1978 and 1980, which would put the voters between 18 and 20 years old.
The board has registered 1,178 voters between October 1 and Tuesday to bring the total number of registered voters in the county to 82,827. Fields said feels said there was a little more than the number registered for the Democratic and Republican primaries. At the end of May, Tuscaloosa County had a 82,603 for the primary elections.
If voter turnout is low as it would be in an election plagued with confusion about where to vote and whether to vote at all, the 700 votes of students could be crucial.
“I hope the citizens of Tuscaloosa will not have their future decided by students who will bloc vote an issue without understanding its complexities,” said the AEA’s Maddox. “we’ve been through this once before with this district seat and I hope he wouldn’t try that again.”
Garrison said he will organize a shuttle service to help students get to the polling places.
“There’s no telling what the students can do,” Garrison said, “but there is power in numbers. And it remains untold whether the couple boxes in the student areas will make a difference in the outcome of this election.”