Bonner comments on voting allegations

Mark Hammontree

Two weeks after the controversial Tuscaloosa municipal elections, University of Alabama President Judy Bonner issued a statement Saturday addressing the allegations that UA students were involved in illegal activities surrounding the election.

While many of the races on election day were close, the Board of Education race for District 4 and the Board of Education Chair race produced a great deal of controversy over the alleged actions of certain UA students and greek organizations.

Until the emailed statement Saturday, however, no UA administrator, including Bonner or UA system Chancellor Robert Witt, had issued any statements concerning the allegations, although several UA faculty and members of the UA community called for immediate responses from the administration.

“The University of Alabama does not have the authority to investigate the outcome of a municipal election, including allegations about which students chose to vote in that election, for whom they voted or why they cast the votes they did,” Bonner said in the email.

Cason Kirby, a former SGA president at the University, defeated incumbent candidate Kelly Horwitz for the District 4 Board of Education seat, and Lee Garrison, another UA alumnus and former city councilman, defeated opponent Denise Hills for the Board of Education Chair seat.

In the wake of the election, allegations arose of voter fraud and illegalities concerning the two races. Reports include that of 10 UA students registered to vote in a single-family home in District 4, and emails offering “incentives” to members of sororities in return for going to vote for Kirby and Garrison.

The controversy has led many members of the community to voice their complaints about the alleged fraud as well as the involvement of the Machine, a secret political coalition of traditionally white fraternities and sororities, which has reportedly used similar tactics to control the outcome of SGA elections for decades.

Bonner did not note the specific allegations against certain students or greek organizations, but said that any “students who are found to have violated the Student Code of Conduct will be referred to the Office of Student Conduct for disciplinary action.”

The Tuscaloosa City Council met Sept. 3 to officially canvas the votes and Kirby and Garrison were confirmed as the winners.

Hills has since issued a statement saying she would not be challenging the results.

“While a court challenge would likely be successful, it would be prolonged and would not permit me to devote my full attention to addressing the concerns of our community about our children’s education,” Hills said in press release addressed to “friends, supporters, and the Tuscaloosa City Community.”

Horwitz, however, will be going forward with a legal suit challenging the results of the election on the basis of voter fraud, bribery and corruption, according to the court document filed by Horwitz’s lawyers. Horwitz said in a statement provided to the CW that she believes “a large number of votes cast in District Four were cast by individuals who were ineligible to vote in that district.”

Horwitz said her lawsuit is only interested in addressing the legal issues surrounding the election and is not intending to make blanket allegations against any groups.

“The court will examine individual votes and voters to ensure that they voted in accordance with the law and will disqualify them if they did not,” Horwitz said in the statement.

Kirby’s attorney, Andy Campbell, told AL.com that the election was “free and proper.”

“Many of the allegations made in the aftermath of the vote are simply untrue and truly unfortunate for the University community, which will be show by the evidence,” Campbell said.

Horwitz said she will accept whatever verdict the court reaches.

“If my opponent is shown to have legally received the requisite number of votes, I will gladly step aside,” Horwitz said in the statement sent to the CW. “But I am sure that he and I, and all legal voters and residents of District Four, agree that it would be harmful to the interests of District Four residents to ‘move on’ until we have – properly and through evidence taken under oath – addressed the serious concerns that this election was determined based on improperly cast votes, and thus disenfranchised legitimate voters.”

In letters to the CrW, and through other media, several UA professors have issued public statements demanding a response from the UA administration concerning the illegalities allegedly perpetrated by students and certain organizations.

Paul Horwitz, Kelly Horwitz’s husband and a UA law professor, sent an email to the Faculty Senate urging actions be taken to determine “who runs this university and how.”

Bonner also did not address the allegations of Machine involvement but said that the administration would work with students leaders to ensure that UA students understand the role of their vote in civic elections.

“Until the investigations are complete, we will work with our student leaders, including those in the Greek community, to provide educational opportunities to ensure that our students understand and appreciate their civic responsibilities. In the meantime, it would not be appropriate to comment further until the investigation and court case have been finalized.”

After state and local authorities have established the facts surrounding the election, the University will then be able to conduct any necessary internal investigations into the issue, Bonner said.

Bonner also told students the administration expects students to treat the democratic process with respect.

“Voting in a free, open election is a right that people have fought – and died – to protect and expand over the years,” the email said. “We expect our students – and faculty and staff, for that matter – to protect the integrity of the election process, as well as the privacy of each individual’s vote and the ability of all individuals to vote their conscience.”

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