Bottle Rockets Downtown

A lawsuit complaining about election fraud could bust things wide open

Gee, I don't even know how to tell you how much fun this could be. Just pull out your folding chairs, pop up some corn and get the kids out on the lawn. I think it may be time to watch the fireworks downtown.

A group of stalwart grassroots community organizers has filed a lawsuit that just might bust the deal wide open at Dallas City Hall. They claim that the elections process in this burg is rife with corruption.

Roy Williams and other grassroots activists want to prove that rich people are stealing poor people's votes in Dallas.
Peter Calvin
Roy Williams and other grassroots activists want to prove that rich people are stealing poor people's votes in Dallas.

Now, I'm not going to tell you that this is the kind of lawsuit they're going to be pulling off the shelf to admire at Harvard 100 years from now. I don't think the plaintiffs would tell you that, either.

It's a little rough around the edges. It's a cut-and-paste job. As a matter of fact, when I pulled the file downtown, I could actually see the lines where they had cut and pasted.

But the part of it that I especially admire--what promises the most fun--is that this lawsuit, which alleges all sorts of election fraud and ballot fraud and general chicanery in the election process, involves some individuals who really know what they're talking about.

I'm trying to put this delicately.

And I am definitely not talking about everybody in the deal. There are several people involved in this suit who are so honest, if they found a quarter in the pay phone, they would advertise. Put up signs on the telephone poles. But certain other people involved in the filing of this lawsuit, which alleges ballot skulduggery...

OK, imagine this. Imagine if Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid came into town and started bucking their horses and shooting their weapons in the air and yahooing and kicking up dust, and when the sheriff went out to ask what was going on, they said, "We feel that certain individuals may have been making untimely and improper withdrawals from the bank."

They would know what they were talking about, right? And if it ever got to the point of a trial or an inquest or a hearing or something, they could probably provide a lot of specific examples of how people might actually make an improper withdrawal. They could write the cookbook for it.

It would make for juicy testimony, wouldn't it?

We're on the same page now, I can tell. And we don't have to embarrass anybody with unnecessary specificity.

The main plaintiffs in this matter (there are others) are four well-known grassroots community activists: Marvin Crenshaw, Sandra Crenshaw, Jurline Hollins and Roy Williams, in alphabetical billing. These also happen to be city council candidates who were soundly defeated in the recent elections. They are challenging the results by which the opponents in each of their separate contests defeated them.

They have all thrown in together as plaintiffs, even though their claims are against different defendants in different elections. Marvin Crenshaw told me that their filing is a "class-action lawsuit."

I'm not a lawyer. I don't know about the action in this lawsuit, but I'll say this: As far as I'm concerned, it's got class.

The plaintiffs allege that there is an entrenched, organized system of vote fraud in Dallas, centered on but not exclusive to the abuse of the absentee-ballot process, and that this system is dominated by and operated for the benefit of the big money interests downtown.

Now here is where things get a bit complicated. I don't think any of these plaintiffs would claim that the big money interests downtown thought this system up or could have thought it up in a million years. In fact, I think some of them might even admit...OK, let's not be coy. I know some of them would admit, off the record, not for attribution, behind closed doors, with the curtains drawn and all that stuff, that they thought it up.

When I called people about it, there was even an amount of prideful chortling on the phone, as when people described things like, "the game we called 'Follow the Mailman,'" or the fine art of steaming open absentee ballots to see which ones need to be filed in the trash bin.

But the grand thing is this. They see the error of their ways.

And now they want justice.

Justice, as the prospectors used to say of gold, is where you find it.

The plaintiffs, in talking about their suit, don't make specific allegations against Mayor Ron Kirk or the Dallas Citizens Council or the Breakfast Group. But they do say that a system in which votes are on the block and available to the highest bidder is one in which poor people can never win. Even if poor people invented the system originally.

"Ron Kirk is always going to win in that situation," Marvin Crenshaw told me, "because he has access to the money. That's how it works. Ron Kirk is the front man, and the Citizens Council supplies the money."

I shiver with awe. I think we may be witnessing, in the long, difficult history of Dallas, Texas, a moment of supreme and unparalleled importance:

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