Dead Man Voting

St. Louis elections are a national joke. Trouble is, it's not funny anymore.

Just why Green was called to testify and what she may have said remains a mystery. Green declined to comment on her testimony.

A relative newcomer to St. Louis politics, Green has managed to stay mostly outside the fray -- and her name has never surfaced in connection with any election irregularities -- until now [Laura Higgins, "The Accidental Politician," Oct. 25, 2000]. "I would be surprised if she did anything directly," Harmon says.

Joyce refuses to say whether she's looking at nonmayoral candidates. "I don't have anything to say about that," she tells the Riverfront Times. "I'm not going to speculate as to what is going on with our investigation. If and when charges are filed, we'll announce them at that time. But I don't want to compromise what we're doing by discussing it."

Jennifer Silverberg
Comptroller Darlene Green has testified before a federal grand jury.
Comptroller Darlene Green has testified before a federal grand jury.

Others called before the grand jury include Keena Carter; her Republican counterpart, Jeanne Bergfeld; and Pearlie Evans, who managed Lacy Clay's 2000 campaign and was a longtime aide to his father, former U.S. Rep. Bill Clay. As election-board employees, Bergfeld and Carter delivered stacks of election-board documents subpoenaed by the FBI, which demanded records showing voters who cast ballots, people whose attempts to vote were denied and voter-registration records dating from Oct. 1, 2000, to the registration deadline for the 2001 primary.

Carter won't discuss her testimony. Bergfeld did not return our call. Evans, who had run Operation Big Vote registration drives before Montgomery, hasn't done anything wrong and isn't a target, says her attorney, Jerryl Christmas. He says Evans gave the grand jury background information on Operation Big Vote. He said she does not want to speak with the media.

Exactly who was behind last year's Operation Big Vote registration drive remains a mystery. Montgomery had worked for Bosley Jr.'s campaigns in the past, and she is the niece of his 2001 campaign manager. But Bosley Jr., whose campaign stood to benefit from high turnout in North Side neighborhoods targeted by Operation Big Vote, says he doesn't know who funded the registration drive. He does say it all began in a North Side bar.

"A guy comes in this lounge and says, 'Who wants to do voter registration?'" says Bosley Jr., who has spoken with relatives of the accused. "The guy says, 'Meet me at the Sears building, Saturday morning at 8 o'clock.'" About 50 people showed up, Bosley Jr. says, and each person was given 25 cards, which were marked with the person's initials and turned in at the end of the day, even if the cards were blank. "Somebody took them and filled them in," opines Bosley Jr., who cites clumsiness as evidence that his campaign wasn't involved. He has no suspects but says someone was trying to make all black people, not just himself, look bad. "White people don't vote for black people," he says. "So why would black people register white people? Why would black people register dead white people? These are obvious names. Why would a black person want to register Nellene Joyce?"

If nothing else, the registration drive was botched, and no one wants to take credit for that. Operation Big Vote is a loose-knit collection of nationwide chapters under the umbrella of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, based in Washington, D.C. Melanie Campbell, coalition director, says she's never heard of Montgomery or the three people facing criminal charges. "I've heard about it, and I don't know those people," Campbell says. "They were not authorized to be representing Operation Big Vote. What it has done for me is, I know we have to, as an organization, work on some ways to make sure people can't just utilize the name."

Campbell says Howard Taylor is the point man for Operation Big Vote in St. Louis. Taylor also says he hadn't heard about the voter-registration drive until he read about it in the newspaper.

"I wasn't sure whether they were legit or what," Taylor says. As a coordinator for Operation Big Vote since 1978, Taylor has arranged rides to polls, set up get-out-the-vote telephone banks and organized neighborhood canvasses to comb the North Side for citizens who need reminders to cast ballots. All do-gooders with a passion for democracy are welcome, but they don't get paid. "We go out and get volunteers -- Boy Scouts, church organizations, senior citizens," Taylor says. One thing Taylor doesn't do is organize voter-registration drives.

"I have never done that," he says with a slight chuckle that comes from watching elections in St. Louis. "I never want to get involved with that. We stay as far away from that as possible. I leave that to other people because of the taintedness involved."

Just about anything that can go sideways in an election has in St. Louis.

During the past century, the city hasn't gone a decade without at least one vote-fraud scandal: dead voters casting ballots, voters registered from vacant homes, votes cast by felons and candidates who received no votes in precincts where voters publicly swore that couldn't be true. A dozen years before "chad" became a household word, St. Louis politicians were arguing in court over tiny pieces of paper left hanging from punch-card ballots.

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