Group's attorney planning appeal to get members back on voter rolls
The Macon Telegraph,
June 23, 2000
By Rob Peecher
EATONTON - An attorney representing members of the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors may go to court to try to stop Putnam County elections until his clients are returned to the county's voter rolls.The Putnam County Board of Registrars voted during a hearing Wednesday to remove another 13 individuals from county voter rolls; 23 people were removed during a similar hearing last week. Most, if not all, of the 36 are affiliated with the Nuwaubian group.Merrick Bernstein, an Atlanta attorney representing at least some of the Nuwaubians, said he will appeal the board's rulings on behalf of his clients who were purged from the voter list."We will request (the appeals) be considered in an expedited manner," Bernstein said.If the appeals are not considered by a Superior Court judge quickly, and his clients are unable to vote in the July 18 primary because their appeals have not been heard, Bernstein said he will ask the court to keep the county from holding any elections."We will seek to enjoin all elections in Putnam County until these issues are settled," Bernstein said. "Obviously we're very disappointed in the results of the hearing. A number of valid electors of Putnam County got disqualified and lost their critical and essential right to vote." Bernstein said the hearing was "improperly designed" to remove Nuwaubians from the county's voter list.Of the 93 cases that were supposed to be heard during the nearly five-hour hearing Wednesday evening, 13 individuals were purged from voter rolls, eight were kept on and 72 cases were continued to a later date. Most of the cases before the board Wednesday had been continued from last week's hearing.In most cases, those who were purged Wednesday presented testimony and some documented evidence that they reside in Putnam County. However, at least some presented only a Georgia driver's licenses or Georgia identification cards obtained after last week's hearing. In other cases, the board found testimony or evidence lacking, said board member Trenton Brown III, who conducted both hearings."It is the burden of the one being challenged to offer evidence to show the question that led to the challenge was unwarranted," Brown said. It was up to the board members' discretion as to whether a person's testimony and evidence were sufficient to prove the person lived at the address claimed on voter registration cards, Brown said. "I didn't give a Georgia driver's license made the day of last week's hearing much weight," he said.For the most part, the challenges were based on the number of individuals living at one address. At 173 Shady Dale Road, for instance, there were 35 people registered to vote at that address, where there are three singlewide trailers and a house.Brown said Bernstein was telling witnesses what to say while they were being questioned by the board, and when questions arose about other people living in the same household, witnesses sometimes read their names from a list. "Everything was so questionable last night," Brown said. "It was blatant that they were being fed answers from their attorney or reading straight from the list. ... But that wasn't a controlling factor. I can't say it wasn't odd, them having to think about who was living with them and maybe coming up with a first name. ... The challenge shows that you've questioned what they put on the (voter registration card); verbal testimony's not going to do it."Bernstein denied that he was telling his clients what to say when they were being questioned by the board, and he said the new driver's licenses and identification cards were obtained on his advice. "The list they were reading from was a list we prepared to refresh their minds," Bernstein said, adding that many of his clients had never been in a court setting before and were nervous.Brown said if individuals could provide bills, letters from family and friends, tax returns or other dated information showing their address, that was the evidence he gave the most weight to.Bernstein echoed the opinion of his clients that the county is merely attempting to remove those associated with the Nuwaubian group from the voter rolls before the July 18 primary."All of the people who showed up at the hearing are valid residents of Putnam County," Bernstein said. "That's our belief and our understanding. What's funny is that the notice of hearing was mailed to the address (being questioned), and they got the notice of hearing."Though he admitted that at some of the addresses being questioned there are an unusual number of adults living in small houses, Bernstein said that is the way his clients have chosen to live."Some of us live different lifestyles than others," Bernstein said.