TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — University of Alabama sorority and fraternity members, many of whom registered to vote illegally, wrongly swayed a city election after being urged to the polls by illegal offers of booze, concert tickets and peer pressure, a lawyer for a failed candidate told a judge Tuesday.
Attorney James Anderson urged Circuit Judge Jim Roberts to allow an election contest by Kelly Horwitz, who lost a city school board seat to Cason Kirby by 87 votes in August.
Anderson said there were widespread voting irregularities involving members of multiple Greek-letter social organizations at Alabama, where more than 7,000 undergraduates belong to fraternities and sororities
Members of one sorority were forced to remain in a basement until they registered to vote, and emails and Facebook messages went out to members of five sororities urging members or sororities to vote for Kirby, a former student government president at the university, Anderson said.
Members were told they’d receive free admission and alcohol at two bars for voting, Anderson said, but the scheme fell apart after agents with the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board intervened. As many as 397 fraternity or sorority members may have cast tainted votes after registering improperly because they didn’t meet residency requirements, he argued.
A lawyer for Kirby, Andrew Campbell, asked the judge to stop the challenge before a trial currently set for Oct. 31. Anderson is using unsubstantiated media reports and rumors in an attempt to overturn Kirby’s victory, Campbell said.
“It’s character assassination. It’s group assassination,” Campbell argued.
Roberts said he would rule as soon as possible on whether to allow a trial over the results of the District 4 election for the Tuscaloosa City School Board, which was held Aug. 27. As much as 85 percent of the district’s population is composed of students, Anderson said, and lawyers said both Horwitz and Kirby courted student votes.
The allegations have cast another cloud over the Greek system at Alabama, where sororities and fraternities occupy multimillion dollar mansions and campus politics are dominated by a Greek-controlled group called “The Machine.”
The election happened around the same time the student newspaper reported and administrators later confirmed that all-White sororities had made membership decisions based on race that prevented minorities from joining.
A campus march was held to protest the racially segregation of the organizations, and sorority recruitment rules were changed following the reports to give alumnae less control over membership offers. University President Judy Bonner said 14 blacks have joined 12 traditionally White sororities, and all the groups have some minority members.
Campbell said some people dislike fraternities and sororities at Alabama, and Horwitz’s allegations were a bid to go after an “evil Greek system.”
“All they’re asking for is the disenfranchisement of a group of voters they don’t like,” Campbell said.
Anderson denied the claim and said Horwitz is only trying to make sure votes were cast properly. Dozens of sorority members registered to vote using the addresses of new sorority houses that didn’t exist before the registration deadline had passed, he said.
“That makes it pretty obvious what happened,” Anderson said.