2 Alabama elections to be monitored

Published 11:08 pm Monday, August 25, 2008

WASHINGTON – Federal elections observers will again monitor elections in Perry County, Ala., for potential violations of the Voting Rights Act, the Justice Department said Monday.

The department is dispatching observers to municipal elections in the county seat of Marion, and to elections in Bayou La Batre, in Mobile County.

Federal and state officials began investigating elections in Perry County after reports of suspicious behavior at the polls in the June 3 primary and because of unusually large numbers of absentee ballots. Monitors had attended the June primary.

The Justice Department wouldn’t elaborate on why it was monitoring the two elections Tuesday. Generally, observers are sent to ensure fair voting procedures and to protect minority rights.

Perry County, about 70 miles west of Montgomery, had a turnout of about 50 percent on June 3 – more than triple the statewide turnout. More than one-fourth of the votes came from absentee ballots.

Michael Jackson, district attorney for Perry County, has said FBI agents told him that they were looking into the election. State Attorney General Troy King also opened an investigation.

King, who subpoenaed records from the primary, expressed frustration that the Justice Department would not turn over reports from election monitors it sent for the primary. He said the reports could help his investigation.

The department responded that it would not release the reports because its review was still underway.

Perry County has a storied place in the voting rights movement. The fatal shooting of a black man after a voting rights march in 1965 prompted the Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march and led Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act that opened Southern voting rolls to millions of blacks.

Bayou La Batre City Clerk Donna Gainey said the department had notified the city that it would be sending monitors but did not say why. The city, which has a sizeable Asian population, also was chosen for monitoring during its 2004 city elections.

– Associated Press writer Garry Mitchell in Mobile contributed to this report.