The earthquake that was Operation Lost Trust shook the very foundations of South Carolina politics to the core back in the early 90′s. Corruption, greed and vote buying ushered in sweeping ethics reforms that demanded better of our elected officials and those running for office.
But in these last days of the Columbia mayoral runoff, a recent video has left us scratching our heads wondering if, yet again, history is doomed to repeat itself.
Last Thursday, former mayoral candidate Aaron Johnson had a group of student voters interviewed for his new online show “This Is Columbia.” The video of Benedict College students being driven to the Richland County election office to vote absentee, tells quite a story.
As Johnson put it…
The team that shot the footage at the voter registration office was dispatched when we heard that Benedict students were organizing to vote absentee on Thursday, April 15th. We were originally doing a story on student and young people participating in the election and the runoff, but when we found out incentives were being offered and students were being taken to cast absentee ballots by candidate Steve Benjamin’s staff members we decided to release the footage.
The footage was captured with the permission of all interviewees. The woman interviewed in the released interview provided her name as Aja Wright. We have interviews with several other students who were participating in Benjamin campaign’s voter transportation and incentive program.
Driving people to the polls, in and of itself, is not wrong; but from what the student in the interview, Aja Wright, said, there was more than just free rides to the election office. ”The young man, he’s on the campaign for Steve Benjamin, and he has ‘incentatives’ to get the students out there to vote. You know, you have the ‘Party Bus’, and he’s giving people food and drinks and everything to come out, you know, to come out and vote. We’ve also been registering people to vote too, as well.”
The Pulse also received word on Friday from an eyewitness at Benedict College that Benjamin personnel and former City Manager/Police Chief Charles Austin had held a luncheon open to students who either were voting or had voted absentee.
In response to the YouTube video, Free Times is reporting…
Benjamin’s campaign said Monday that they don’t have much to say about the video, other than to note that the person speaking is never identified.
“We have been offering rides to anyone” using a variety of vehicles, said Benjamin’s campaign spokesman Michael Wukela. “And we have not been saying ‘Vote Benjamin.’ We’ve been saying ‘Vote.’”
The video in question was released on Friday, and now has 1000+ views on YouTube.
In response, former Chairman of the State Election Commission, William DePass, said, “I conducted the largest voter registration drive that had ever taken place and recruited Billy Webster as my co-chairman…and they wouldn’t even let us give new registrants a free cup of coffee at Bojangle’s (which the Websters owned at the time) because it violated the law.”
There is a place and time for voter registration.
There is a place and time for encouraging people to vote.
And there is no better place and time than tomorrow’s mayoral runoff election for the people of Columbia to say, “This type of political manipulation is enough!”