By Hans von Spakovsky
The Left has lobbed many false charges at Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. (C, 78%), Donald Trump’s nominee for attorney general. But perhaps the most outrageous claim is that he tried to suppress African-American voters in 1985 by pursuing a voter fraud prosecution in Perry County, Alabama.
The bogus accusation would be laughable, were it not such a familiar tactic. But this is just another instance of so-called “progressives” going all out to protect their own — even when the victims are black voters.
Perry County is a rural county of about 10,000 residents in west-central Alabama in an area known as the Black Belt for its dark, rich soil. Its population is majority black (68.7 percent, according to the 2010 census) and overwhelmingly Democratic (Barack Obama received 73 percent of the vote in 2008). The key to winning any local office in Perry County is to win the Democratic primary.
Perry County has long been plagued by accusations of voter fraud in local elections. As former Alabama Democratic congressman Artur Davis said, “The most aggressive contemporary voter suppression in the African American community” that he saw in Alabama was “the wholesale manufacture of ballots, at the polls and absentee, in parts of the Black Belt.”
On April 20, 1983, a local county grand jury (with a majority of black members and a black foreperson) issued a report concerning problems in the balloting process that targeted the “aged, infirmed, or disabled.” The grand jury called for the “vigorous prosecution of all violations of the voting laws” and requested “the presence and assistance of an outside agency, preferably federal, to monitor our elections and to ensure fairness and impartiality for all.”
But Sessions, the U.S. Attorney in the region, did not open a federal investigation into the 1982 election. In his Senate Questionnaire for the attorney general nomination, he explains that he was hoping it wouldn’t be necessary, that the county grand jury report would cause local activists to “conform to the law.” Unfortunately, that did not happen.
Instead, as LaVon Phillips, a black legal assistant in the Perry County district attorney’s office, later testified, her office received numerous complaints during the 1984 election cycle. Black voters and incumbent black officials reported that voters were receiving absentee ballots they had never requested. Moreover, she testified that local candidate Albert Turner was illegally picking up absentee ballots from voters.
A handwriting expert concluded that Turner had written in his own name on some of the absentee ballots. Other black voters had gone to the polls only to be told that someone had already voted in their names by absentee ballot.
What was happening? Perry County was embroiled in an intense political fight pitting one set of black Democratic candidates against another. But one side was apparently willing to do anything to win.