Museum defends voting promotion

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 4, 2002

Denies attempt to buy votes

By Dale James / Selma Times – Journal

It’s billed as &uot;a non-partisan effort to increase participation in museum activities as well as increase knowledge of the American voting rights struggle.&uot;

It all seems harmless enough. But the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute’s 2002 Voters Crown contest is raising eyebrows with its offer of a $10,000 prize for the winning king or queen.

Participants must be registered to vote, have voted in Tuesday’s upcoming election, be a member of a group excluded from voting during the last half century, and answer three questions.

Those questions are:

If participants find themselves stumped by any of the questions, the entry form helpfully suggests that they may secure the answers by calling the museum directly.

Former Selma City Attorney Henry Pitts has dismissed the promotion as &uot;ludicrous&uot; and a thinly disguised attempt to purchase votes. He even went so far as to suggest that the promotion should be investigated by the attorney general’s office and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.

That brought a heated response from Faya Ora Toure, the museum’s founder.

Toure is the lead attorney for the plaintiffs in a lawsuit that alleges the outcome of the June 25 Democratic runoff was altered, in part, by illegal Republican crossover votes. LaTosha Brown lost that runoff to Yusuf Salaam. Brown contested the election results to the state Democratic Party Executive Committee, which upheld the results and declared Salaam the rightful Democratic nominee. Pitts was one of the attorneys for Salaam.

The case is being pursued in circuit court to determine if there was any criminal misconduct involving the destruction of certain election materials.

Last week, Toure filed a motion for a preliminary injunction enjoining the destruction of any documents from the June 4 primary, the June 25 runoff or Tuesday’s upcoming general election. The motion was granted by Circuit Judge Marvin Wiggins.

Said Toure, &uot;No one seems to be upset about the illegalities that took place in that election. The only time people get upset is when something encourages African-American voters.&uot;

Of allegations that the museum is attempting to buy votes, Bland said, &uot;I don’t see it that way at all. We want to cause awareness of voting and of the history of voting rights. When you say ‘museum,’ you might as well say ‘education.’ That’s what we’re all about.&uot;

Asked to define exactly what the requirement that participants be a member of a group excluded from voting during the last half century meant, Bland related a conversation she had with a reporter for a Birmingham newspaper.

Bland noted that while blacks are obviously among the groups that have been excluded from voting during the specified time frame, they are by no means the only group. She cited native Americans as another group that has historically had its right to vote circumscribed.

She suggested that for the price of admission, anyone who cared to might learn any number of little known facts about the history of voting rights in America.

Asked if she was surprised by the controversy the promotion has stirred, Bland observed, &uot;There’s always opposition to anything that causes people to think.&uot;

Meanwhile, for those who qualify and who wish to have a chance at the $10,000, entry forms can be picked up at the museum. They must be postmarked between Nov. 6-12. The drawing to select the 2002 Voters King or Queen will be held at 7 p.m. Nov. 16 at the Carl C. Morgan Convention Center.