By Chad Nance
“I reject the idea of this being presented to me as a native son of Winston-Salem.”
– Flemming Al-Emin, Board Member, the Forsyth Co Board of Elections
On Tuesday evening, at the Forsyth County Government Building, Ken Raymond(R), Chairman of the Forsyth County Board of Elections put off his desire to remove the WSSU early voting site until the 2014 cycle when it will actually be used and then, without warning to his fellow board members, put forth two measures that hearken back to the Jim Crow era. One would be forcing those who help register voters in organized voter drives (like the one’s Yes! Weekly & CCD did in 2012) to fill out a form when they turn registration documents in. A form that would record their name and personal information. This was the kind of information used by Segregationist to target men and women who registered African Americans to vote. Target them for harassment and often violent retribution. Raymond also (As CCD reported HERE) wants to place armed security in the Forsyth County Government Building polling place. This would also be reminiscent of the way that Segregationist used law enforcement to intimidate voters during the Jim Crow era. Both initiatives were placed on the agenda with no prior notice to citizens. Both moves were tabled by the other Republican on the board, BOE Secretary Stuart Russell.
The room was full of Winston-Salem State students and local citizens who were there to watch the proceedings and had planned to speak against the closure of the Anderson Center polling location. Unlike Forsyth County Board of Elections meetings in the past, there was an armed guard present. Chairman Raymond addressed the students in a statement he read before the meeting. He thanked them for their interest and informed them that no comments on the issue of Winston-Salem State’s polling place would be allowed during the public comment portion of the meeting.
The meeting opened with an opportunity to comment by the public. The board agreed would give two minutes to speakers and allow them to ask questions of board members. Rev. Paul Lowe the chairman of the 5th Congressional District Democratic Party and a local pastor at Shiloh Baptist Church spoke first. “My concern is voter registration. Is there going to be a new process?” Rev. Lowe asked.
“We are going to discuss a new policy for voter registration drives.” Chairman Raymond confirmed. Rev. Lowe followed up by asking why any change should be necessary and what the change would be. Raymond launched into a vague story about how he had heard tapes from a BOE meeting in February of 2011. Raymond eluded to some specific complaints, but refused to even state what the nature of the complaints were. Raymond simply kept repeating over and over that he wanted to return “Confidence to elections”- essentially a retread of the Republican messaging on HB 589. Raymond also kept repeating that citizens had appeared before the board with unspecified claims and said that they “Had no faith in the elections system.” Raymond refused to give any specifics until he ran out the clock on Rev. Lowe’s two-minute time- still without answering Lowe’s primary question.
Board Secretary Stuart Russell stated, “We’re at two minutes.”
“You can play the games, but I just asked a question.” Rev. Lowe responded. Raymond then began banging his gavel on the desk and threatened Lowe saying, “I will have to rule you out of order.” Yet Raymond still did not answer the question.
City Councilman Derwin Montgomery then handed the recording secretary a pink card to speak and said, “I’ll finish Dr. Lowe’s. What happened?” and sat down to applause from the citizens in the room.
Raymond kept a game face on… then launched back into the same vague ramble and never provided evidence for his desire to publicly identify those who help register voters or even a specific incident which his changes in voter registration drive procedures would address. Raymond did claim to have researched minutes and listened to “the tapes” of the meetings and found that no action had been taken by the previous board (according to Raymond) then he continued to refuse to list any specific accusations regarding voter fraud and registration drives.
When asked once more to answer the question, Chairman Raymond said, “I never saw it. I just saw a report in the Winston-Salem Journal.” This brought laughter around the room.
Linda Sutton(D), the former chair of the Forsyth County Board of Elections, then stood to comment. “We had complaints like we always do.” Sutton said alluding to Raymond’s claims of some unspecified complaint. She then accused Raymond of engaging in a “partisan witch hunt going back years.” Sutton said that passions are often high in regards to voting, but that the former board took all complaints seriously and addressed them if they had merit. “I admonish you to get down to the business of THIS board.” Sutton stated in conclusion.
“I’ll repeat myself.” Chairman Raymond said, then he did… again. “There were people who stood and said they had no faith.” Raymond repeated. “That leads to the voter registration issue that is on the agenda tonight. We have to discuss this first.” Raymond then continue to repeat the same vague reasoning again without offering specifics about a complaint or who made it. The Chairman evaded answering any of the questions until time ran out.
After some routine business was handled the BOE again turned its attention to voter registration drives and Chairman Raymond’s attempt to make public the names and information of people who register voters. “My concern is comments heard on audio-tape.” Raymond then launched into the same ramble about hearing two citizens on a 2011 “tape” complaining to the BOE with unspecified accusations of voter fraud. Raymond handed his “motion” around the table, but no copies of the “motion” or evidence for why it should be implemented were provided to the public or the press. CCD requested copies at the meeting and before publishing this article and have yet to receive any documents.
Chairman Raymond stated that he had spoken with County Attorney Lonnie Albright (who attended the meeting) to inquire as to:
“Are we legally required to accept voter registration group’s forms?” According to Raymond Albright indicated that they did not necessarily have to do so. Then Raymond put forth a motion to adopt a policy to require voter registration organizations to fill out an additional form when they return forms. Those forms would require the name, address, and email address of the person doing the registration drive. Raymond did not seem to understand that the reason this is not done is because citizens who have engaged in registering voters (particularly African American voters) have been historically subjected to repercussions ranging from verbal harassment and vandalism all the way to outright murder.
Board Member Flemming El-Amin made comments after Raymond’s presentation. “I would never agree to anything that would discourage that process. [voting]” Mr. El-Amin went on to say, “This stinks to high hell, pardon my French. What are you gaining by doing this?” He asked Raymond.
Raymond simply smiled at Al-Emin.
“There is not enough concern to adopt this policy. Lying on a form is already a felony. It is already on the form.” Mr. Al-Emin continued. “I represent every person in Forsyth County.” Mr. El-Amin stated. He indicated that he considered himself a representative of citizen from the far western reaches to the far eastern reaches of Forsyth. “No one has called me and said, ‘Flemming, I have a problem with registration’.” Mr. Al-Emin wrapped up stating, “You are doing something diabolical. Don’t make policy in response to anger.” Al-Emin closed saying, “I reject the idea of this being presented to me as a native son of Winston-Salem.” The citizens in the room applauded loudly.
Chairman Ken Raymond, from Boston, Massachusetts, laughed off El-Amin’s comments.
The other Republican on the board, Stuart Russell, took a more thoughtful and measured approach than his colleague, Mr. Raymond, but still did not cite any specific charges or issues regarding voter registration drives. “I think Mr. Raymond has raised some legitimate issues.” Russell said, “I would like to have some time to look at it.” Mr. Russell indicated that he wishes to seek council from the State Board of Elections, then put up a motion to table the issue until the next meeting. This was seconded by El-amin and approved unanimously.
Number 8 on the agenda was an item listed as “other business” with no explanation. As CCD reported on Monday, this “other” would be Chairman Raymond making his first public request about two armed law enforcement or security officers working “security” at the downtown early voting site on the day of One-Stop voting. Raymond again made vague references to “fraud” in 2009, but offered no specifics and cited no cases.
Forsyth County BOE Director Rob Coffman spoke up indicating that he and his staff felt that security, as it is, has been adequate. “When this building is open there are a sufficient number of security here.” Coffman stated. He pointed out that if there were every a need for armed security (there have been none in the past) then staff would merely have to yell “down the hall.” Coffman said that an incident requiring armed guards would be “Unheard of.”
“Some states in our great country have made it illegal.” Coffman said regarding having armed law enforcement inside of polling places. Doing so was a long standing voter intimidation technique that stretches back to Reconstruction and Jim Crow institutionalized voter suppression.
Raymond went into a long “what if?” scenario in response to Coffman.
In his remarks, Flemming El-Amin stated, “I’m a little concerned about having a Gestapo image at a polling place.”
BOE Secretary, Stuart Russell, seemed to find the proposal dubious and brought up fiscal concerns as his reason to pause. “I would like to know how much this would cost. I agree with Mr. El-Amin.” Russell then put up a motion to table this resolution as well. El-Amin seconded that and the motion passed putting off discussion on the issue until a later time.
Lest the students from WSSU feel discouraged at the dysfunction they had seen at the meeting, Flemming Al-Emin addressed them directly saying, “I just want to make it very clear that young people need to be involved. Don’t be discouraged. You continue your journey to be engaged in this government.” The dozen students this reporter rode down in the elevator did not seem discouraged. They were very energized and engaged… and they also said that they want Chairman Ken Raymond to know that they will be watching.
You can find a summary of the Forsyth County BOE’s efforts thus far HERE in a Third Shift column by Chad Nance.