Hispanic right to vote challenged

October 26, 2004

Pearson-   Ninety-eight letters were sent by the Board of Registrars to Hispanics registered to vote in Atkinson County. A version in both English and Spanish informs them of a challenge to their right to vote based on the fact that registered voters must be legal U.S. citizens.

"We discovered quite accidentally that we had a lot of non-citizens registered to vote in Atkinson County," says Frank Sutton.

Sutton and James Mullis are two of the three men who initiated the challenge.

"We don't feel like anybody in the country should vote unless they are a citizen," Sutton says.

Sutton claims he received a tip that a number of Hispanics were illegally registered to vote by incumbent candidate for county commissioner Jerry Metts.

In sworn affidavits, several men tell nearly identical stories of Metts coming to their homes to solicit votes, but when they told him they weren't citizens Metts told the individuals they did not have to be. Then they claim he proceeded to help them complete voter registration applications.

"I don't feel like any Hispanic that unwillingly and not knowing what they are doing should be prosecuted because of the fact that they were lead to register not knowing what they are doing, but anybody else that misled them to register, with putting them in jeopardy of being deported, I think was committing crime and should be held accountable for that," says Sutton.

"He's maintained that he did hand out registration cards and he did help people get registered," says Metts attorney, Shea Browning.

Browning says helping people register isn't a crime and his client did nothing wrong.

"The idea that he somehow registered them to vote and somehow hooked up a computer to get them registered is just totally false," says Browning.

Browning says he feels the allegations are a personal attack on his client and that in the process Sutton and Mullis are suppressing the vote of some innocent Hispanics.

According to the letter those who vote has been challenged must show up at the courthouse Thursday at 7 PM for a hearing. That's when they must present evidence of citizenship.

If they cast ballots early they must bring proof with them, or furnish it within two days of voting for their ballot to be counted.

Posted at 7:00 PM by elaine.armstrong@walb.com