Last April, we brought you the insane story of Olivia Pearson, a civil rights worker and member of the city commission in Douglas, Georgia, who had been accused of voter fraud after showing a first-time voter how to use the voting machine at a polling place. The local Republican prosecutor decided to charge her with illegally assisting the voter and of falsely swearing on a form that a poll worker had asked her to sign. The jury in her trial deadlocked, so she was retried — and granted a change of venue to another county, 60 miles away. Yesterday, the second jury found Pearson not guilty.pointed out last year, Pearson is a dangerous troublemaker in Douglas. She was elected as the town’s first African-American commissioner in 1999, and has constantly worked to get black voters registered and to the polls in Douglas. Pearson also headed a successful drive to elect the county’s first black sheriff, Democrat Doyle Wooten, and she’d been very vocal in standing up for black citizens who had felt singled out by police. As we say, a troublemaker.
On the first day of early voting in the 2012 election, Pearson showed several people — including Diewanna Robinson, who had never voted before — how to work the computerized voting machines. At no time did she ever touch the machines’ touch screens or tell the voters who to vote for. But the prosecutor decided to charge Pearson and three others with felonies, under a Georgia law prohibiting providing assistance in voting to anyone who isn’t illiterate or physically disabled, as Joel Anderson explained in a Buzzfeed story about the absurd case:
In court, Pearson was charged with these crimes: one count of illegally helping a voter who did not need any assistance cast a vote, and one count, regarding a form she filled out about Robinson, of wrongfully attesting that the voter was illiterate. In the charges, significantly, there was no allegation that Robinson’s vote was influenced in any way, nor that she was voting illegally […]
Pearson’s defense was that after helping Robinson, she’d done what poll workers had asked her to do: sign a form that would allow her to help people who were having difficulty using the voting machines. Pearson said she didn’t know turning in those forms meant she was vouching for whether someone was illiterate or disabled.
“It was my understanding that it was the poll workers’ responsibility,” Pearson said. “I was abiding by the instructions of the poll workers.”
Robinson testified that without Pearson showing her how the machine worked, she wouldn’t have been able to vote. And all the witnesses agreed that Pearson hadn’t actually touched any buttons on the machine. Her attorneys said the prosecution had blown up a minor technicality into a felony charge. Pearson’s supporters have said from the start that the charges against her were an attempt to force her out of office and to scare black voters away from the polls.
Pearson told the Daily Yonder the change of venue for the second trial made all the difference: “[You] had 12 people from Wayne County who wanted to do the right thing” the second time out, she said. Her attorney, Mark Loudon-Brown of the Southern Center for Human Rights, agreed, noting that the prosecution’s evidence was the same in both trials:
“My sense is that in [the city of] Douglas and in Coffee County, people know who Olivia Pearson is because she lives in the county and is a city commissioner,” Loudon-Brown told the Daily Yonder. “At the new trial in Jesup, there were 50 jurors in the pool, none of whom knew Ms. Pearson. No one had a preconceived bias about her.”
The jury in the second trial took only 20 minutes to acquit Pearson on all the charges.
RelatedGeorgia Sends Sheriffs To Scare Black People From Voting. Uh, Protect Integrity Of The Vote, They Mean.
Pearson told the Daily Yonder being arrested “devastated” her, and she worries people in Douglas don’t see her the same as they used to. Rather than accepting a plea bargain like the three others charged with her, she insisted on fighting it out in court. She’s found much solace in prayer and support from the community, but it’s been financially and emotionally draining. Nonetheless, she’s glad she persisted:
“I hope that other people will see that when you know that you are right, do not let anyone intimidate you into saying that you are wrong,” Pearson said. “If you stand up and you fight, there is a chance, there’s a great possibility that the truth will come out.”
She’s hoping the verdict in her favor will help her put all this behind her and get back to the business of representing her constituents.
“Now if the Lord leads me a different way, then I will be obedient to how I’m led. But my plans are to continue to do the work that I’ve been doing, helping people, trying to make things better.”
The good guys won this one. It helps that the bad guys are so insistent on behaving like a bunch of Scooby-Doo villains. You want a motivation to clean out Republicans in federal, state, and local government? Keep calling attention to people like Olivia Pearson and the way they’ve been treated.