Originally created 11/28/01

Year-long delay on McKinney investigation begs legal action



AT THE SAME time that Georgia Secretary of State Cathy Cox is trumpeting the efforts of her Election Fraud Task Force, there has been a year-long, conspicuous silence on one of the most egregious allegations of voter fraud arising out of the 2000 election cycle.

Disgusted Georgia voters, reflected in the waning participation at the polls in recent elections, deserve an answer from the constitutional office charged with investigating voter fraud. Allegations swirling around the events of last November suggest that U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney, D-Ga., state Rep. Billy McKinney, D-Atlanta, and several of their supporters conducted a political rally at an elementary school voting precinct on Election Day. According to eyewitness accounts, as many as 12 state election laws may have been violated during the tense moments at the polling place.

National media outlets noted the McKinney incident as one of the most blatant and egregious violations of the sanctity of the ballot box during the 2000 election cycle nationwide. Along with incidents in St. Louis and Florida, the DeKalb County episode reminds us that the American system of voting is indeed a fragile system, open to taint.

I applaud the efforts of Ms. Cox and her Election Fraud Task Force to develop and implement election reform across Georgia. While the focus of the efforts to date has been on modernizing voting apparatus, the matter of voter fraud involving elected officials begs investigation.

THE MCKINNEY

episode underscores the need for swift, strong action by our state government. Ms. Cox has said time and again that election reform - and ending voter fraud in Georgia - are fundamental goals for this administration. Now is the time to act, after 12 long months of silence.

It should not matter that Ms. McKinney and her father are elected officials. It should not matter that ancillary, criminal investigations are allegedly underway regarding Mr. McKinney's actions that day. It should not matter that there are a host of other issues facing Secretary Cox's office, including voting apparatus and the ubiquitous chad problem in precincts using the traditional punch card ballots.

What should matter is that the alleged episode in DeKalb County, witnessed by literally dozens of registered voters, has languished in an investigative purgatory for more than a year. If Ms. Cox and Georgia voters are concerned about election reform, the investigation of the DeKalb episode must proceed, bringing the light of public scrutiny to alleged lawbreaking.

We cannot be turned aside by partisan interests, nor can we pretend that voter fraud is not every bit as serious as adopting new voting apparatus. The people of Georgia, indeed, of the nation, deserve to know what happened and, equally important, what the government of this state intends to do about it.

I HOPE THAT

Ms. Cox intends to do the right thing. Her qualified staff, overworked for the tough tasks that lie ahead, can get the job done. The question is, will partisan politics enter into the equation?

Voter confidence is the issue. Citizens must know that their ballots will count, and that the sanctity of the ballot box is secure. I have instructed the attorneys at Southeastern Legal Foundation to prepare for action in the event that Ms. Cox's office opts for inaction. For four months, we have been in contact with Secretary Cox's office, urging action.

IF THE STATE

cannot, or will not, take thorough steps to root out corruption of the electoral process, how can we expect voters to be confident that their voices really matter? Let's hope for the best, and prepare for action.

(Editor's note: Phil Kent is president of the Atlanta-based Southeastern Legal Foundation, a constitutional public interest law firm, and former editorial page editor and columnist for The Augusta Chronicle.)