The smirk on School Board member Cason Kirby’s face said it all.
The latest development in the Kelly Horowitz challenge to the 2013 Tuscaloosa school board election has been that Tuscaloosa County Circuit Court Judge Jim Roberts has dismissed the case. Horowitz failed in an attempt to prove that students voted fraudulently.
Tuscaloosa News reporter Stephanie Taylor has done an outstanding job in covering the case. Her latest article Judge dismisses contest of school board election is no exception:
Former Tuscaloosa City Board of Education member Kelly Horwitz has lost her court battle contesting the 2013 election results.
Horwitz claimed that opponent Cason Kirby was unfairly elected by members of the University of Alabama’s Greek organizations that practice bloc voting in campus and local elections.
Kirby won the election 416-329. The Alabama Supreme Court ruled that 159 of the 745 total votes were illegally cast by people who didn’t meet the city’s residency requirements to vote in District 4.
Some of the people who cast illegal votes and didn’t testify could face felony charges, he said. Of the dozens of people that her legal team subpoenaed to appear in court Tuesday, 41 showed up to testify. Twenty-two testified that they voted for Kirby and six testified that they probably did, saying that they were “85 or 90 percent sure.” A few said they didn’t remember at all, and some invoked their Fifth Amendment right to not provide incriminating testimony.
The judge did allow Horwitz to offer sworn depositions from eight voters who said they voted for Kirby, and subtracted those votes from his total. However, he wouldn’t allow her attorney to offer affidavits into evidence submitted by students in 2013 who voluntarily said they voted for Kirby.
Taylor quoted attorney Joel Sogol who represented Horowitz:
“It’s the principled thing. Here you have The Machine (a secretive confederation of some white fraternities and sororities) on the University of Alabama campus getting involved in a municipal election, and based on all the material I’ve seen, offering all kinds of rewards like drinks and concert tickets to vote. None of them, at least 159, could not vote here, but they came and they registered anyway. I think if there’s not some consequence to that, then it happens again and again.
“I think the judge is wrong. I think those affidavits are admissible, but he thought differently. It will be up to Kelly if she wants to appeal.”
In another Tuscaloosa News article Kelly Horwitz says legal fight targeted secretive group, Taylor reported on a statement made by Horowitz:
“We often mouth the platitude that the younger generation is our future,” Horwitz said in a statement issued Wednesday. “It is time for us to decide which of these competing versions of the future we are we going to nurture: the one that operates in secret through coercion to win at any cost, or the one that operates in the light to encourage free debate and the competition of ideas.”
“People who live in Tuscaloosa have not forgotten the scene and emotions of election day in August 2013,” Horwitz said in the statement. “They won’t forget the scene of stretch limousines bringing students two or three blocks from their residences to vote, like people attending a fancy-dress party. Poll watchers recall students panicking as they filled out their forms, because they knew their real address was in some other district, or city, or state.
“On that day voters — some total strangers — approached me in anger or nearly in tears. They weren’t upset that I might lose; that’s how elections go. They were upset because they felt their own fate as parents of local schoolchildren, and their sense of belonging and ownership in their own district, had been stripped from them.
“For too long, the adults in our community have been willing to turn a blind eye to The Machine, treating it as child’s play,” Horwitz said. “They dismiss it as an entity that plays games with student elections and homecoming queen. But it is past time to acknowledge that this secret organization is a training ground for behavior that brings disrepute to the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa and our state.”
In the Pre-Council meeting that took place before the 2013 election Tuscaloosa City Council member Lee Garrison, who was running for the Chair of the Tuscaloosa City School Board, arrived fifteen minutes late. The first thing he did was to ask the City Clerk if she could take extraordinary measures to insure that students who were voting at the wrong place could be directed to the proper polling place. Garrison pioneered the use of students who were told by the Machine who to vote for in municipal elections.
A December 28, 1997 Tuscaloosa News article “Election Contested” described an earlier election challenge that also failed:
What is a resident? That has become the central issue that could decide whether Councilman Lee Garrison retains the Tuscaloosa City Council District 4 seat he won by 84 votes in the August election. Opponent Don Brown contested the election claiming Garrison benefited from the illegal votes, largely cast by students who don’t need residency requirements.
A University of Alabama senior and former Inter-fraternity Council President, Garrison and his forces registered hundreds of college students to vote. One of the issues became whether students or permanent residents could control the district election.
While Brown’s forces did not challenge enough votes to make up the difference in Garrison’s margin of victory, his attorneys have been successful in putting voters, mostly students, on the witness stand. They were questioned about where they consider their primary residence and some were required to reveal who they voted for.
Virtually nonexistent residency requirements leave the outcome completely in doubt. Should circuit Judge Bernard Harwood overturn Garrisons victory, a lengthy appeal is expected.
Garrison won the School Board race in 2013, along with Cason Kirby. Both depended on the votes of University students to win.
Voters who have no children in school have a right to vote in school board elections. If they are permanent residents of the community the quality of its schools should be a legitimate concern. Whether students, who are only in town for a few years and whose motive for voting is to elect one of their own, should vote in a local school board election is another matter. Yes. They have a right to vote. But as Kelly Horowitz said:
“It is time for us to decide which of these competing versions of the future we are we going to nurture: the one that operates in secret through coercion to win at any cost, or the one that operates in the light to encourage free debate and the competition of ideas.”