Retrial Set for African American City Commissioner Accused of Voter Fraud
Olivia Pearson’s 2017 trial in her home county resulted in a hung jury. The new trial, focusing on a single charge instead of four, will be held in a different county after the defense requested a change of venue.
An African American town commissioner from rural Georgia accused of voter fraud more than five years ago will go back to court Thursday, February 22, in a county that demographically may be less favorable for her than the site of her first trial.
Olivia Pearson faces a single charge of false swearing – signing a form related to entering the booth to show a voter how to use the machine. The charge stems from the 2012 general election in Douglas, Georgia. Douglas is located in rural Coffee County in southern Georgia.
Pearson’s March 2017 trial in Douglas resulted in a hung jury. When the defense requested a change of venue for the retrial, the judge moved the proceedings about 60 miles to the east to the city of Jesup, a town of about 10,000 residents located between Savannah, Georgia, and Jacksonville, Florida.
The site of the new trial, Wayne County, has a higher percentage of white residents than Coffee County. Wayne is about 75% white and 20% black. Coffee is about 65% white and 27% African American.
The jury pool is created from a list of registered voters. In the 2016 presidential election, the county where the new trial will be held voted 3 to 1 for the Republican candidate. Coffee County voted about 2 to 1 for the Republican.
After the 2017 mistrial in Coffee County, an African American juror said she was the sole hold out on the vote to convict Pearson. That jury was composed of nine whites, two blacks, and one Latino, according to local press accounts.
Pearson was the first African American elected to the Douglas city commission and has served nine terms. Voting rights activists say she has been singled out because of her political activism. A state assistant district attorney said in court that Pearson knowingly broke election rules and intentionally lied about her actions in a signed affidavit.
Pearson is being represented by the Southern Center for Human Rights, a legal-system reform nonprofit based in Atlanta.
Rural Georgia voters are more likely to be cited for voting-rule infractions. See story.
Is this a story? How much does rural location affect voting-rights coverage? See story.