Schutze

The Case of the Virgin Couriers

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Some, in fact, did not remember voting. Several elderly citizens disappeared into darkened homes and reappeared offering me crumpled ballots from elections gone by or, in one case, what looked like a solicitation from Publishers Clearinghouse. They thought I was there to collect it. Nobody remembered seeing any Virgin people, although I admit this was not an easy question to frame under the circumstances. (I was earning my money that day.)

But the few who did remember clearly the person who picked up their ballots said it was Terri Hodge. We went over the point carefully. "You're sure you remember that Ms. Hodge picked it up in person?" I asked.

"Um-hmm. She did."

Let me recap a key point. The specific crime of which Hodge's aide is accused is tampering with a government record. Ann McGeehan, director of the elections division of the Office of Texas Secretary of State--speaking not in reference to anything about Hodge but only in general terms--said that the courier receipts themselves are government records.

"They are official election records," McGeehan said, "and in the primary there were federal offices on the ballot, so those are considered federal election records. So, yes, they are official election records."

Federal government records.

Hodge told me that the thing with the nonexistent address was a simple goof. She just wrote down the wrong address.

She conceded that she and other non-Virgin persons had picked up the ballots and taken them to the central pickup point. She very carefully and expertly parsed Chapter 86.006 of the Texas Election Code to show me that the language of the law says only that ballots "must be delivered by mail or by common or contract carrier."

Delivered. Doesn't say "picked up." She picks up. The Virgins deliver.

She said she used Virgin Couriers receipts because she doesn't have her own receipts. She parsed another piece of the law that says the secretary of state should provide receipt forms to people who don't have them. "Maybe I need the secretary of state to make me a receipt, since I don't routinely issue receipts."

Um, yeah.

I said I thought the law was supposed to prevent this very kind of operation from happening, and I also said I thought the Virgin Couriers receipts clearly gave a false impression that the Virgins had picked up the ballots themselves. This whole thing, with the Virgin receipts for pickups that the Virgins didn't make and the nonexistent address and so on looked to me like a mechanism for thwarting the clear intent of the law.

Her voice shaking with emotion and anger, Representative Hodge responded with a two-hour, nonstop telephone tirade: "You were never in my home when my grandmother talked to me about why it was so important for me to vote, and how the white lady that she worked for snuck money to her to pay her goddamn poll tax to vote, Mr. Schutze, to vote.

"Where were you? Where were you, Mr. Schutze? Right now in this country black people have to be certified every 10 years through the Voting Rights Act, sir, for the right to vote, and you people, you people who don't give a shit about us as people but to write mess about us, to make us all look like thieves, to make our old people look like they're stupid and can be maneuvered and manipulated, because we go to them, because we go to them...

"All you want to do is get people to read in your paper, 'Black people are doing this, the black elected officials are doing that. Oh, it's unethical. Oh, they're being paid.'"

Look, I'm a guilt-feeling bleeding-heart liberal. That stuff tears me up. I was just about down on the floor ready to scream uncle. But then she said something else.

"We want these people to vote," she said. "There is somebody sitting there every time, sir, to challenge everything we do, whether it's legitimate or whether it's not. And, you know what, if you keep sitting under the microscope, at some point you are bound to make a mistake."

It caught my ear, because I thought she had her microscope tuned in pretty good when she was telling me how Chapter 86.006 had failed to contemplate the picking-up part of the delivery process.

Ms. McGeehan of the Secretary of State had told me: "The laws that restrict how ballots are returned were all compromises, like most legislation. This particular piece of legislation...as it started out was much more strict...All that was kind of peeled away as the legislative process went on."

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze