Thanks to Georgia’s crusade against voter fraud (which is virtually non-existent, by the way), Olivia Pearson could end up in prison for five years. What heinous act did this grandmother commit that is worthy of felony charges? She helped her 18-year-old nephew and elderly aunt to vote — in 2012.
Pearson is a former parole officer, a civil rights activist, and currently serves as a city commissioner. She has done all she can to help family and friends cast their ballots since she came home from college in 1983, including helping them get registered and shuttling them to the polls.
“I would carry them to the polls,” said Pearson, who is also a 55-year-old grandmother. “There would be challenges sometimes, especially from young people who don’t really understand the value of it.”
On Oct. 15, 2012, Pearson was doing what she had always done when she took her nephew Shelton Johnson, to the county elections office so he could register to vote. As she often does, she offered to take him to vote early immediately after he registered. Johnson was still in high school and this was his first time voting. So when he had trouble figuring something out at the voting machine, he called for Pearson to come help him.
That was his first time voting. He didn’t know what to do,” Pearson said. “He didn’t know how to operate the machine and I had to help him.”
In the same election year, Pearson’s 64-year-old aunt, Evelyn Ross, flagged her down while out on a walk and asked for a ride. Pearson said she asked her aunt if she would like to vote and Ross said, yes, “but you will have to help me.” Pearson explained that Ross “has difficulty seeing and she did not know how to operate the machine.”
As required, before helping her aunt at the voting machine, she filled out the form that must be completed anytime someone is helping another person at the polls. Pearson has done the same thing for other voters who needed assistance, and apparently, this is what the state of Georgia has a problem with.
Pearson and three other defendants have been charged with improperly helping people to vote. They are accused of helping people to vote who didn’t really need it and lying on the voter assistance forms.
Johnnie Lee Roper, a 79-year-old black city commissioner and one of the most well-known civil rights leaders in the town, said that these charges have been brought against Pearson as a way to make other people “scared to help folks.”
I call it voter suppression, where they’re trying to put that fear into you,” he said.
Emmet Bondurant is an Atlanta-based attorney. In February, he filed a lawsuit against Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp for dropping names from voting registration rolls ahead of November’s upcoming election. He agreed with Roper’s assessment.
“The threat of bringing those cases and starting an investigation is that it’s really a coercive threat against voter registration drives. And the people who really organize most of the voter registration drives are the NAACP, civil rights groups, because the African-American population is under-registered and under-represented. So they become targets,” Bondurant said.
Testifying before the State Elections Board in March, Pearson said she never once overstepped her bounds.
At no time have I ever touched the screen or told them who to vote for,” Pearson told the panel. “I could only relay to them what the screen says or whatever and give them an option as to how they would want to proceed.”
It is worth pointing out again that the incidents in question happened way back in 2012. Three years passed before charges were brought.
“If it happened in 2012, why did they wait until 2016 for a hearing?” Pearson asked, pausing before answering her own question with the obvious answer. “Because it’s a tactic to suppress the vote.”
Featured image via BuzzFeed News