Capers denies allegations

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 4, 2004

Lorraine Capers denied allegations of absentee vote coercion and several City of Selma election officials supported her statement with a series of written and signed affidavits Tuesday afternoon.

A pair of Selma voters leveled accusations on Monday, saying Capers had coerced them into voting absentee, the mother-daughter duo, Shirley and Inez Woods, said Capers had filled out Shirley’s ballot for her.

Capers denied any wrongdoing.

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“I took Inez and Shirley Woods down to City Hall so they could vote absentee.

Upon arriving in City Hall, I saw Dianna Johnson, who works as the City Council Secretary, and she asked me who was I supporting,” Capers said in the affidavit. “I replied, ‘Mayor (James) Perkins.’ Inez and Shirley Woods then received their ballots from Elise Blackwell.

They both voted in the City Clerk’s Office.

I stood in the door until they marked their ballots.

At their request I assisted them in completing the information on the back of their envelope, such as their place of residence, precinct and age.

They both printed and signed their names.

Once the ballots were complete, they were handed to Ms. Blackwell and she asked them to drop their ballots in the lockbox.”

City Clerk Lois Williams, who is the City of Selma Election Manager, was in her office at the time when Woods and Capers arrived.

Williams’ office is in a separate room but has an open door through which she said she could see the women.

Williams said she saw the absentee election clerks, Elise Blackwell and Massey Jones, provide the Woods with the information to cast an absentee ballot.

Williams also noted she observed Capers in the doorway.

“I did not see Mrs. Capers assisting these individuals, nor did I hear any comments made by either party as it relates to being assisted or coerced,” Williams said. “After completing their ballots they left the office.”

Absentee clerk Monica King said she was filing mail when the women entered.

“I personally didn’t hear any of the ladies request assistance from anyone in the office,” King said. “During the voting process the ladies didn’t complain about the process of voting.

The two ladies cast their vote and left the City Clerk’s office.”

Jones said that both of the women seemed happy with the process.

“It was not even implied by either of them that they were coerced during this process,” Jones said. “When they left, they were happy and did not show any sign of being coerced of that they were unsatisfied with the way they were treated by the absentee staff.”

In a Monday interview, Sherry Woods said Capers had filled out her ballot.

“When we went to the city hall Ms. Capers filled out my ballot.She filled it out for James Perkins, Bennie Ruth Crenshaw, and Frank Chestnut. I signed my name and I printed it. She filled the rest of it,” Shirley Woods said. “When we got in her car she had already told us she was going to fill it out. If they was to ask us if we need any help she was going to be the helper. I know how to vote, I don’t need help.”

Some accusations of involvement had been lobbed at the mayor’s wife, Cynthia Perkins, however Shirley Woods, Jones, Williams and officer James Walker all said the mayor’s wife did not go into the City Clerk’s office and remained outside.

According to the affidavits, after the Woods left the office, they met City Council Candidate Lola Sewell.

Sewell, they said, appeared to be angry with the Woods.

“After a brief moment, Monica King, approached me and said that Lola Sewell was outside of City Hall and was screaming at Shirley Woods, who had just cast her absentee ballot and it appeared that the young lady was crying,” Williams said. “At that point, I looked out the window and saw them standing in front of City Hall and heard loud voices.

I saw Lola Sewell take Ms. Inez Woods and Ms. Shirley Woods to her car, they got in and she drove off.”

Capers said she and the Woods ran into Sewell inside City Hall.

“About a minute after they dropped their ballots in the lockbox, Lola Sewell came into the City Clerk’s Office and asked Shirley and Inez Woods who they voted for,” Capers said. “She loudly asked the two women if they voted for herself and Yusef Salaam.

The Woods said, ‘no’.

She asked them why and told them that I must have marked their ballots for them. Inez Woods stated that she marked her own ballot.

Ms. Sewell was very aggressive and belligerent.

At that point, I walked outside of the City Hall building to avoid conflict with Lola Sewell.”

Williams said Sewell later returned to the City Clerk’s Office with both of the Woods.

“Ms. Sewell said to me that these individuals did not get a chance to vote for the persons whom they wanted to vote for. Both individuals concurred with what she said,” Williams said.

Sewell asked if the pair could change their votes or vote again, according to Williams.

Williams said she explained that the votes had been cast and the ballot box is locked and will remain locked.

Williams said she offered to check with the League of Municipalities attorney to see what could be done.

“I also told Ms. Sewell that I did not observe these two individuals having any opposition to being assisted while they were in the City Clerk’s office,” Williams said. “I told her that they did not appear to be coerced and that they do have the right to be assisted if they desire such.”