Guest Post by Dr. Henry “Chip” Carey
Dr. Carey is Associate Professor of Political Science, Georgia State University. His specializations include International Criminal Justice and Human Rights, Comparative Legal Development, Empirical Democratic Theory, Elections and Democratization. Dr. Carey is author of Reaping What You Sow: A Comparative Examination of Torture Reform in the United States, France, Argentina, and Israel and Privatizing the Democratic Peace: Policy Dilemmas of NGO Peacebuilding (Rethinking Peace and Conflict Studies).
Dr. Carey’s guest post appeared on the AJC blog, Get Schooled, on August 14.
On August 13, about a thousand people cast votes on a petition for a charter with the DeKalb County Board of Education. The Druid Hills Charter Cluster, Inc., a Georgia non-profit corporation, is the organization behind the movement to create a cluster of charter schools in one part of DeKalb County. The petition passed by a very large margin, and now the petition will be presented to the DeKalb Board of Education.
The “model” for this cluster of schools has its origins with the Georgia Charter Schools Association (GCSA), and indeed the GCSA formed an advisory team to work directly with the Druid Hills Charter Cluster. The same model has also been implemented in Florida.
In my view, charter schools, which are not as effective as “regular” public schools, are vehicles for the privatization of public education. The drive behind charter schools can be traced to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The latest charter bill that was approved in Georgia is a ghostwritten copy of the ALEC model charter bill. Most charter schools and clusters are managed by private corporations, not by the local government.
As I have reported on this blog, charter schools are about money and power, and a marriage with politics and influence peddling. More often than not, false claims are made about the effectiveness of charters, when in fact the data in many studies simply does not support the efficacy of charters.
In a democratic society, is the movement to privatize schooling in the best interests of its citizenry? In the movement to privatize and insert charter schools into public schools, what means are used to carry out this?
On Tuesday, August 13, citizens in DeKalb County gathered at Druid Hills High School to vote on the Druid Hill Charter Cluster. One of those citizens was Dr. Henry “Chip” Carey, Associate Professor of Political Science at Georgia State University, and a parent of a student attending Druid Hills High School.
Here is his report.
By Henry “Chip” Carey
Indictments of DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis and DeKalb Superintendent Crawford Lewis have added to perceptions that many parents would like to exert more control over their schools. However, the vote for the Druid Hills Cluster Tuesday, designed to create more local autonomy over the management of all public schools feeding into Druid Hills High School, should not be validated.
The best that can be said of the parents supporting the Druid Hills Cluster were that that they were blind to basic fairness in excluding the majority to their interests, to say nothing of the violations of electoral law.
Justice Roberts wrote for the majority in the 2013 US Supreme Court Shelby decision, which struck down the pre-clearance requirement of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. He claimed that states like Georgia do not have the types of irregularities that institutionalized “Jim Crow.”
He was wrong. What occurred at Druid Hills High School last Tuesday was clearly a violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution, as well as federal and state laws, and federal court cases that ban political activity inside polling places (Burson v. Freeman, 504 U.S. 191 (1992); Minnesota Majority v. Mansky, 708 F.3d 1051 (8th Cir. 2013)
When I arrived to vote, I did not see the customary sign for all elections in Georgia forbidding political activity within the vicinity of a polling place. Yet advocates were distributing literature favoring the referendum to create a “Druid Hills Cluster.”
When I went inside to vote, all the polling officials were wearing a white T-shirt with the logo of the campaign favoring the Cluster. The woman taking the ballots wore the same symbol on her T-shirt and gave out information on how to get on email lists to support the pro-cluster campaign. Next to the ballot box was a sign-up sheet and a machine to install an app on to smart phones.
I asked for permission to take the photos of the polling person who authorized me to vote and she complied.
Later, Mathew Lewis, who heads the campaign, insisted that I also take a photo of on the back of the T-shirt, which I had not noticed since all the poll workers were seated facing the voters. On the back was an exhortation to turn out to vote. Mr. Lewis thought that proved neutrality, but aside from the propaganda on his front, his back was in effect an attempt to increase turnout, which had been targeted toward the rich white people living in Atlanta’s second richest neighborhood.
When I got outside, I discovered, in talking to several people, that I had not been entitled to vote because my wife had already voted on behalf of our daughter, a fact that apparently my poll worker was unaware. So, when I went back inside to ask to disqualify my vote, I was then informed I could vote on behalf of our son, because he lives in the Druid Hills district, even though he attends Chamblee High School. So, I did not cancel my vote.
Then, I went outside and found out from someone who knows the electoral laws better than the poll workers, that I could not vote for my son because he is a senior and would not be enrolled a year from now.
The vote was held for only four hours, 4-8PM at the high school located in the neighborhood far from where the majority African-Americans and other people of color mostly live. Public transportation to the high school involves several transfers for most and was effectively impossible to vote during the time frame—if they were ever informed of the vote. Mr. Lewis’s crack team turned out an electoral mostly devoid of minorities. Who were present in very small numbers.
The vote count was conducted by those wearing the pro-referendum tee shirts. No electronic voting machines were used, but at least I do not suspect Mr. Lewis of miscounting. However, the lopsided result is mostly an indication of the equal protection clause of the US Constitution, which prohibits discrimination of fundamental rights, whether the right to have a neutral voting area or the right of minorities to effectively participate in an election.
In all the elections that I have observed around the world, in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Haiti, Pakistan, Romania and the Philippines, I have never seen such a sham election within a polling area.
President Reagan called the vote in Nicaragua a “Soviet style sham,” but Nicaragua’s polls were free of electioneering near and inside the polling stations. Election results in the Soviet states were also typically 90-10 percent, like the results for the Cluster. It is easy to get 90 percent when the opposition is effectively excluded from participating by failing to inform them of the vote’s existence, and most importantly, by making it impossible for most people to vote within a reasonable distance of their homes.
At a time when Georgia has moved to additional early voting, DeKalb County government has succeeded in excluding the majority from participating in an election that has implications for their children’s education. In DeKalb County, this is more evidence that the pre-clearance requirement of Section Five of the Voting Rights Act needs to be enforced right here.
As an assistant varsity boys soccer coach at Druid Hills High School, where we were state semi-finalists five years ago, half the team had players whose parents spent thousands of dollars every year on their soccer development. The other half had never played on any organized soccer team or program. The idea that these two disparate backgrounds could blend into a winning soccer team was only possible because of team work.
What the advocates of the Druid Hills cluster did was exclude those without any means, who happen to represent half the student body. The Druid Hills gym was a Potemkin Village, operating in a law-free zone, designed to give the false impression that everyone beyond the Druid Hills neighborhood was consulted about this proposal, when the opposite was true.
When I posted these factual details on my Facebook timeline, I received responses from those favoring the referendum, but stating, “Wow! How is this possible, in 2013?”
Justice Roberts should know that basic discrimination of voting rights were grossly and systematically violated in DeKalb County. That nobody saw fit to mention these injustices just shows how utterly unconcerned people are with the rights of everyone living in this community. This just shows how little training of poll workers or publicity throughout the area was made by those who just wanted to railroad this proposal through.