Alabama’s Constitution: A Result of Vote Fraud?
A group of voters in Alabama is suing to strike down Alabama’s 1901 constitution based on their claim that it was ratified fraudulently:
The voters this month sued several state officials in Jefferson County Circuit Court’s Bessemer division, claiming they violated voter rights by failing to ensure that Alabama’s 108-year-old constitution is valid. State historians say the 1901 referendum on the document was plagued with voter fraud.
The lawsuit is the latest approach at forcing reform of a lengthy state constitution that is riddled with racist language, offers little power to local governments and imposes a tax system that critics call immoral. Efforts to change it at the legislative level for years have been unsuccessful.
“All I’m asking is that the constitution of Alabama be the constitution of the people, which it is not right now, because they didn’t vote for it,” said Ed Gentle, the attorney for the plaintiffs.
Wayne Flynt, a retired Auburn University professor who has written extensively on Alabama history, said the constitution never passed. The official election results showed black voters supported it – but such support was unlikely, since a vote for the document was a vote to disenfranchise blacks, he wrote in an affidavit attached to the complaint.
While I’m highly sympathetic to arguments—made often by friend-of-OTB Steven Taylor—that Alabama’s lengthy, detail-oriented state constitution, which is still laced with (inoperative) racist provisions, is in need of reform to make it more streamlined and coherent (much as similar constitutions from the same era in southern states are in need of reform), I’m not sure that the plaintiffs have a very good chance of winning their case.
While there is compelling evidence presented of voter fraud in Flynt’s affidavit, primarily in the “black belt” counties where the level of support for the constitution strongly indicates ballot-stuffing took place, given that these facts have been been known for decades (the primary source Flynt relies on was published in 1955), it seems a little late to be raising this issue in court. Some of Flynt’s data in his affadavit seem to be inaccurate as well; while he claims that 5,326 votes in Lowndes County in the Black Belt were cast for ratification, these returns from the Alabama state archives only indicate 1,390 votes were in favor of the new constitution (and, indeed, a majority of votes were opposed in that county, consistent with a non-fraudulent outcome there at least).
Furthermore, even if they are successful in their challenge, presumably the 1875 Constitution — which was ratified by a quite “fraud-proof” margin and reflects a similar philosophy of centralized government with limited powers — is the legitimate constitution of Alabama. And, as a matter of general principle, at some point key provisions of laws, constitutions, and legal acts of dubious origins become accepted and essentially irrevocable, such as the disputed ratification of the federal constitution’s 16th Amendment, the annexation of Puerto Rico, or the severing of West Virginia from Virginia.