Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Goolsby "War Story:" The Dodge County Vote-Buying Case

"I couldn't wait to grow up, so I could get paid for voting." I will never forget those chilling words! They were spoken by an 18 year old young woman who I interviewed, (as a former federal prosecutor), while preparing for one of my biggest federal criminal cases: the Dodge County vote-buying case.

Dodge County is located in central Georgia, about an hour southeast of Macon, Georgia. It is a beautiful farming community and has some really good people who live there. But for decades, Dodge County had developed a bad reputation as a place where (some) candidates would pay voters for their votes. It had degenerated to the point where both sides in one contested election for Dodge County's sole county commissioner seat actually set up tables at opposite ends of the courthouse and supporters of the two candidates would openly bid for voters' votes as they entered the courthouse! Dodge County's sheriff was really smart. He had spread money out among vote-buyers in both county commission camps to buy votes for him! As a federal prosecutor, I was entrusted with the onerous task of prosecuting this vote-buying case and with trying to "clean up Dodge!"

Vote-buying is a federal crime, as long as a federal candidate is on the ballot. We prosecuted a total of 28 defendants. It was quite an ordeal! Fortunately, all were convicted, including the sheriff and both county commission candidates, along with a number of their supporters. The head of the Department of Justice Election Fraud Section has called this the largest election fraud case in United States history. I won my first D.O.J. Director's Award for this prosecution. But I certainly do not deserve all the credit. I was supported by an incredible team of agents from the G.B.I., the F.B.I., and the Georgia Secretary of State's Office. Without their fine work, we could not have been successful!

Awards and recognition are always nice. (Getting out of Dodge County with my skin was nice, too!) But I take greater satisfaction in believing we made a difference in how elections were conducted in this county. And I will always hope that no child in Dodge County will ever again associate growing up with getting paid to vote.

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