For over fifteen years Tuscaloosa’s District 4 has been controlled by The Machine at the University of Alabama. In 1997 while still an undergraduate student and married to Student Government Association President Jessica Garrison, Lee Garrison figured out that he could register droves of students. As directed by The Machine they would vote for him in his race for the City Council.. Many probably had previously been unaware that Tuscaloosa even had a City Council. Some were reported as having asked who they were supposed to be voting for as they emerged from the shuttle buses that they were carried to the polling place in. It is said that the students were rewarded afterwards with free booze at the Jaycee Park building.
Garrison has run unopposed for the Council position ever since, with the exception of 2005. ( A flyer with the picture of him wearing the notorious penis mask emerged in that contest but it did not affect the outcome any more than it did in 2013. ) Garrison developed such strong ties with both former University President Robert Witt and the current President Judy Bonner that they contributed money to his successful campaign for the Chair of the School Board.
The vote of students affiliated with The Machine in Districts 1 and 4 in all likelihood contributed to Garrison’s victory. After the election many residents in District 4 regretted having voted for Garrison when they found out about his role in trying to defeat popular School Board candidate Kelly Horwitz. As soon as the election was over he put his house in District 4 up for sale and and planned to move to an affluent neighborhood across the river.
There is no certainty what part Garrison played as a City Council member in redrawing the borders for District 4. In 2013 a large sliver of neighborhoods containing permanent residents was cut out of the district. That with any doubt increased the power of The Machine at the District 4 polling place. Matt Calderone ran unopposed to replace Garrison on the Council. Calderone, who lives in a rented house in District 4, is a recent graduate of the University of Alabama where he was The Machine’s choice for President of the Student Government Association. Cason Kirby who ran against Kelly Horwitz for a School Board seat in District 4 had also been a President of the University’s Student Government Association who was supported by The Machine.
The challenge to the results of Cason Kirby’s win in the District 4 School Board race mirrors the challenge to Lee Garrison’s win in 1997. The increased popularity of social media in 2013 as well as ubiquitous emailing has revealed more information about how The Machine drums up the student vote.
Free booze as one incentive for students to vote however never was provided by local bars. The Alabama Beverage Control Board was tipped off about the plan to give free drink wristbands to student in exchange for “I Voted” stickers and the bars involved were contacted before the first drink was poured. In the legal filing challenging the legitimacy of the student vote one student who was overheard at the polling place was quoted as saying, “Man, that was a lot of work for a free drink!” As it turned out all of his efforts were in vain for he could probably couldn’t have cared less who sat on the School Board.
The limousine rides from streets that were lined with fraternity and sorority houses to the polling places may have been paid for by “in-kind contributions” to Lee Garrison from political action committees. There was no record in Cason Kirby financial disclosures of expenditures for transportation. ( Matrix LLC received $19,696.08 in campaign expenditures from Kirby. Perhaps Matrix LLC was the source of all of the Cason Kirby teeshirts worn by his supporters who were transported to the polling places in the limos? ) As yet only students have been reported to have received such rides to go exercise their right to vote.