QUITMAN, Ga. — Four years ago, black candidates won a majority of seats on the Brooks County school board, which had always been controlled by whites. They did it through an organized absentee ballot effort that generated close to 1,000 votes.
The most common charge was illegal possession of a ballot, often for the act of taking a willing voter’s completed, sealed ballot, which they said they had voted as they wished, to the mailbox for them.
Only one defendant was tried. She went through two mistrials on 32 counts before a multiracial jury acquitted her this fall on a stripped-down list of 19 counts. One defendant died while under indictment. Three defendants elected to the school board were suspended by Gov. Nathan Deal in 2012 but later reinstated. Last week, the remaining 10 cases were dropped.
Although it has attracted little notice outside Brooks County, the case exemplifies one of the signal issues of our time: the struggle to balance concern for the sanctity of the ballot box against the drive to involve as many citizens as possible in the electoral process, especially those who, in the past, were barred or discouraged from voting. It raises the thorny and emotionally laden question of when vote protection becomes voter suppression.