Jefferson County: It was miscommunication, not voter suppression

CSRA News

Jefferson County leaders addressed claims of voter suppression from a political organization.  The group Black Voters Matter told NewsChannel 6 it stems from an incident on Monday when their plans to take a bus load of senior citizens to vote in Louisville were stopped. 

LaTosha Brown, Black Voters Matter Fund Co-Founder said, “Anytime you are interfering in their choice then that in itself is voter suppression or voter intimidation.”

It was a bus tour to nowhere Monday in Jefferson County when Black Voters Matter arrived at the Leisure Center to make sure seniors there voted.  What started as a full-filled message with song and dance about casting a ballot quickly ended. 

“We were actually shocked because we felt like why was it that they couldn’t ride on the bus with us,” Brown said.

NewsChannel 6 spoke with Jefferson County Administrator Adam Brett about why seniors were told after getting on the bus that they had to get off before going to vote. 

Brett replied, “That’s a political event where during early voting, in a very contentious election, that’s a political event and we don’t allow that.”  He added that a citizen told him the bus was at the center. 

Administrator Brett joined the director of the center who made the call to him once she realized the group wanted to do more than just tour the bus. 

Jefferson County Leisure Center Director Tammie Bennett said of the situation, “I’m thinking it was going to be maybe like a 10-15 minute thing where they just tell them to get out and vote.”

Local Democratic Committee Chair Diane Evans said she invited Black Voters Matter to the center and sent an email to the center director Sunday night after 10 o’clock to allow the organization to come.   But the email never requested to take the seniors away on a bus.

“Also got back to the Co-founder Cliff Albright and told him that I had emailed the director and that I had not heard back, but I thought that it would be ok and I would let him know Monday morning,” Evans said. 

“This group was not vetted,” Brett said.  “We felt a liability on our end to just open up to a group we didn’t know about.”

District 1 Commissioner Gonice Davis also said he spoke with Evans on Sunday morning.  He said they spoke about a religious organization helping the seniors with resources following Tropical Storm Michael, but nothing about voting or putting the seniors on a bus to vote.   He added that Evans called back upset after the administrator said the seniors could not ride the bus to vote. 

Evans said Monday the center announced the local Democratic Committee and Black Voters Matter were on the way.  But to the seniors it wasn’t voter suppression or anything else.

“They didn’t say nothing about vote for steak or hamburger,” said Nola Cunningham, a Leisure Center Member.  “Some of us were on there just for the ride.”

“It didn’t feel like a political event to you?” NewsChannel 6 asked. 

“No it didn’t.  It just was fun,” Cunningham replied. 

“And have you voted?” We asked. 

“Yes,” she replied. 

The director said the center typically issues signed waivers before taking trips.  All in all about 10 seniors voted since Monday. And the center provided that transportation.  

Davis added that there is a lot of misunderstanding surrounding the entire situation.  He said Bennett has actually done a lot for the Leisure Center, such as a prom and he does not want to see anything tear that relationship she has with its members down.

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