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Voter manipulation will be with us always

It was a scorching hot summer day in central south Georgia circa 1971. It was the day of the Democratic primary. There was no Republican primary in the county in question at the time. The county’s only beer store, run by the town which served as county seat, was closed until the polls closed at 7 p.m. I was among a group of teenage boys who gathered in Mr. Crane’s yard. Crane was the county’s sole commissioner and ran things with an iron fist. I had been invited by my friend, Crane’s son, to help ‘give rides to the polls’. There was only one polling place, the county courthouse. There was a fleet of vehicles in Crane’s yard, including several trucks with the county’s logo on the side. There were several portable metal buildings in the yard, each equipped with a big air conditioner. Inside each were cases upon cases of ice cold beer. Each vehicle had coolers with ice. Each driver was given a list of voters to get to the polls. We were to ride the dirt roads to farmhouses and trailers dotting the onion and tobacco fields of the area. I rode with Crane’s son. We were instructed to give each voter three beers on the way to the polls and the remainder of the six pack once the ballot had been cast. We didn’t have to mention Crane’s name. It was obvious who sent us. We did as we were told and Crane won as expected. For years after, the joke when we saw an obviously drunken individual was, ‘That guy is just about drunk enough to go vote’. Obviously, we were not just giving rides to the polls. We were manipulating voters. It seemed an amusing adventure at the time. Now, I am sorry I was involved but it did provide several lessons in human nature. I learned many people would sell their vote for six beers. I also learned at least one man could not be bought – at least not for a six pack. The wiry guy was fresh from hanging tobacco in a barn where it was at least 120 degrees. ‘Boys, tell that sonofabitch Crane I didn’t vote for him but I did enjoy the beer,’ the smiling man said with a fake snarl as he finished his last PBR. I admired him. As Jesus said of the poor, voter manipulation will be with us always but the Georgia legislature moved last week to shore up election security and Gov. Brian Kemp signed the bill. He is now catching hell from Delta Airlines, Coke, Major League Baseball, Hollywood and assorted others for doing so. The solons weren’t impressed. They sported cans of Pepsi on their desks on the last day of the session. Many of the fraud allegations last year were about absentee ballots which were used much more so than usual due to COVID. Was there fraud in the process? You betcha! There always is. Was it enough to sway the outcome? Who knows? Still, requiring voters to show a picture ID to get an absentee ballot is not unreasonable. Absentee ballots were designed for registered voters who would be out of town on election day. These were usually students off at college, those in the military and those who could not get to the polls due to illness. Last year, we went way past any reasonable bounds as voters got multiple absentee ballot request forms in the mail from people who wanted to influence the outcome. In almost every election, Georgia offers three weeks of advance voting. That includes one day of Saturday voting. That’s plenty of time – some would say too much time – to get out the vote. Anything much beyond that and you are manipulating voters, just like Crane with his beer. Note: The county commissioner’s name has been changed to protect the guilty though he is long since dead.

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