Despite voter suppression, the turnout will be high in order to defeat Roy Moore, explains Cliff Albright, of Black Voters Matter
SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. As we go on air, Roy S. Moore, a Republican and Doug Jones, a Democrat, battle it out in a special Senate election in Alabama. What is also special about Alabama is that it has a particularly notorious history when it comes to suppressing the right to vote. The day after the 1965 Voting Rights Act, Alabama introduced a number of ways to prevent people’s rights from being exercised in that state and then on Monday, December 11th, that’s yesterday, Voting Rights Attorney, John Brakey, won a court order in Montgomery, Alabama requiring every county to keep copies of their ballots after the voting on Tuesday. But then, GOP got wind of this and by 6 pm the victory was overturned by an Alabama Supreme Court Judge ordering a stay on the first order. On to talk about these dynamics and much more on election day in Alabama is Cliff Albright. He’s a writer, a radio talk show host who can be heard on WRFG 89.3 FM in Atlanta. He’s also the founder of Black Voters Matter Fund. I thank you for joining me, Cliff.
CLIFF ALBRIGHT: Thank you.
SHARMINI PERIES: Cliff, let’s start off by the mood in Alabama. This has been a fairly contentious campaign and the entire country is watching Alabama today. I want you to give us a sense of what the various candidates are doing in terms of their campaign or did until today, and how the campaigns have gone and what do you expect this evening?
CLIFF ALBRIGHT: Well, in terms of how the campaigns have gone, many of us know what’s been going on with Republican candidate, Roy Moore, who long before recent allegations was known to have racist beliefs. He was against removing segregation from the Alabama Constitution. He was against the Muslim serving in Congress, homophobia and so all of that was known, but you know, of course in recent weeks allegations of child molestation, borderline pedophilia, have come out. Remarkably, he is still in the race but in terms of his campaign, what we’ve seen is that over these weeks, there’s really been no campaign. He’s refused to do interviews. He just recently did an interview with, I think it was like an 11-year-old child or something like that. There have been no debates. He’s refused to debate Doug Jones, so that’s been the status on the Republican side.
Then on the Democratic side, it hasn’t been a perfect situation either because there were some missteps. A commercial that Doug Jones did that spoke about the Confederacy in a way that, quite honestly, some Black people in the state and the nation were kind of turned off by. Up until recently, the mood within, I can speak best about the Black community has been kind of cautious because we know for the most part, the threat that Roy Moore poses but there’s been lackluster, until recently, excitement around Doug Jones.
What we have seen in recent days and especially today, has been a lot more excitement. It’s been very high turnout, especially for a runoff election and so folks are optimistic. I mean, folks have really started to come to terms with recognizing that this election is about more than just these two candidates and their flaws or whatever, but it’s really about just having a voice and refusing to remain silent. Letting the entire state know and entire country know that Black voters matter. It’s about our issues and sending a message.
SHARMINI PERIES: Right. Now, I understand that a Voting Rights Attorney by the name of John Brakey had managed to get the Alabama courts to actually rule on a case to make sure that all of the counties in Alabama actually retain the ballots from today’s election. So, if it needs to go to a recount, they actually have those boxes in place. Give us a sense of what made this move necessary.
CLIFF ALBRIGHT: I mean, what’s made it necessary has been the history that you referred to. The history of elections been rigged, of votes being suppressed, of people voting, particularly in primaries and voting in things that they should not be voting in, boxes turning up missing. I had personal experience in an election contest some number of years ago where there was disputes over crossover voting, a practice that white voters have used for decades to impact the democratic primary but during this election contest which is a legal proceeding, we were able to open up the rooms where the precinct paperwork and voting documentation were stored. That’s a part of the election contest process. In doing so, it was discovered that there was a box missing. It was discovered that there was a box open. These are supposed to be sealed boxes.
Once the votes are tallied and people sign off on them, they get sealed and the sheriff is supposed to put them away and they’re supposed to be remained sealed, but there were boxes that were open during this process. The notion of people tampering with votes and then trying to hide that evidence by going into these sealed boxes or stuffing boxes, you know, these notions are marred in just conspiracy theory. I can speak to what I’ve seen with my own eyes. In the black belt, particularly in the lack belt, but throughout the entire state. Particularly when it’s a statewide election, a gubernatorial election or a senate election like this.
SHARMINI PERIES: Now, give us some of the ways in which your right to vote as a citizen in Alabama is being curtailed, particularly if you’re of color or if you’re a Black voter.
CLIFF ALBRIGHT: I mean, there’s a variety of ways. I mean, one of the most pernicious ways is obviously by taking away the voting rights of those with felony convictions. For a long time, they wouldn’t even define what the crimes were that could cause you to lose your voting rights, so there have been some advances on that partially due to the work of one of our campaign partners with Black Voters Matter but there’s still a long way to go. There’s still obstacles to folks who are in jail and should be able to vote to actually being able to vote. There are still obstacles to those who have had their voting rights restored to actually getting in reality those rights restored. That’s a whole area of concern.
Then, you’ve got the other aspects. Even today we’re hearing reports how in some precincts, particularly in Black precincts, that election, the polling machines are mysteriously broken or there’s delays during the open of polling places, long lines developing. Because we know that as a strategy, not accidental, but as a strategy for years it has been that if we can make the process hard enough, make the lines long enough, close off the places, then people will leave. That’s another aspect of voter suppression.
Then you’ve got this aspect, which again we’re hearing about today in Montgomery, which is where I’m going to go in just a few minutes, but we’re hearing about police presence at some of the polling places. Not because there are any disturbances, not because a crime has taken place but because they know that when there’s police present, when they have their lights flashing, people get intimidated. Even people who have no reason to be afraid or no legal cause to be afraid, just as a reality of what we know about police relations with the community and police violence, they know that that’s an intimidating factor. They know that there are people there, people who work in certain places, they know that sometimes that they have people there watching because you can wind up losing your job. These are all aspects of voter intimidation that have taken place. In some sense it’s gotten more sophisticated since the Voting Rights Act but in some cases, it’s just as straight on as it was even pre-1965.
SHARMINI PERIES: Now Cliff, you mentioned 1965, a very important time. Everyone refers to Selma, Alabama and the great march that took place. Now, we have to keep in mind Alabama is also KKK country and there’s nothing that resonated more with me today seeing Roy Moore riding a horse to go and vote today, is that he may as well have been wearing a white hood and a cape there. Do you have some sense of that history, Cliff, and the role, of course, Martin Luther King played in that famous march? Where, while that march was going on apparently the KKK had murdered four members that were marching in the march at some point along the way. Give us a sense of that history and its significance today as people go to the voting booths.
CLIFF ALBRIGHT: Yeah, I mean, that history is very significant. It’s kind of a mixed legacy because for some people it’s a very painful history. It’s a history that some people don’t like to talk about and therefore we don’t communicate it sometimes to our children, to the younger generations. Sometimes, they’re not really clear about that history. Then, when we start seeing similar things, some can view it as isolated incident and kind of be, it’s detached from history but when you know the history, what you see is that there’s been a remarkable consistency, as you said, from 1965 and intimidation that took place then. And from characters, like a Roy Moore riding around on a horse, waving his gun at a rally, you know, but he’s gone as far now, I guess, to a certain point recognizing that he’s got to deal with, II mean, this is a man who said just a couple of months ago that the last time America was great was when there was slavery. This is what we’re looking at.
He’s literally a throwback to that period and the state, to a certain extent this entire country has been more open to that throwback because of the atmosphere that’s been built, led by the President, well 45, Donald Trump, but led by that man we’ve got very much open season. That gives way to a candidate like Roy Moore. That history, it’s critically important. I was blessed to live in Selma for nine years and to work alongside with folks who were very much involved in that march, involved in that movement, who were foot soldiers. That history is critically important to me, it’s critically important to the state, it’s critically important to this country.
SHARMINI PERIES: Now Cliff, so the Democrats really have an opportunity. There’s a wedge here to seize today with the errors that Doug Jones have actually made in this campaign. Is there a chance that he might win this election given the animosity most women and people feel about the candidacy of Roy Moore?
CLIFF ALBRIGHT: I mean, there’s a chance. Alabama’s a hard state to read sometimes. It’s notoriously hard to poll in Alabama. One, because people lie, you know, Bradley Effect or whatever you want to call it, but people lie. Sometimes, I think they don’t even lie. I think sometimes they really think, like with Roy Moore, they really get to the point where they say, “Okay, this is enough, it’s enough. He’s an accused child molester. This is just a bridge too far,” but then they walk down the street and they see a Black person. They’re like, “Ew, but we need Roy Moore.” You know, so sometimes it’s not even because they lied, it’s because they’re in such a unstable, volatile state of mind. You know, it’s insane, but there is this optimism. There is this kind of undercurrent of people who are saying enough is enough, but at the end of the day, they’re going to do what they’re going to do.
What I’ve been speaking to with our organization, with our campaign, we have some campaign workers, some young campaign workers here at the incredibly historic Tuskegee, Alabama. At the end of the day, what we’ve been doing is really all about us. Our slogan has been, “It’s about us.” It’s Black Voters Matter, it’s about us and so we just need to send a message and people are actively sending a message with their vote today that enough is enough and they don’t want somebody who didn’t want to take segregation out of the Constitution. Somebody who thought that the last time America was great was with slavery, somebody who thought that, as he said, “that they started making up rights in 1965,” which undoubtedly, he was talking about the Voting Rights Act. We just can’t be silent for that and I’m glad to see the energy that’s been out there today is showing that there is a chance that he could lose.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Cliff. I thank you so much for joining us. I’ve been speaking with Cliff Albright. He is with the Black Voters Matter Fund and two of his campaign workers are out there with him from Black Voters Matter, who is doing door-to-door campaigning. I thank you guys for joining us as well.
CLIFF ALBRIGHT: Sure, thank you. I want to wave. All right.
SHARMINI PERIES: Thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.