When a community leader helps her neighbors vote, she shouldn’t get slapped with felony charges. But that’s precisely what Olivia Pearson, a long-serving City Commissioner in Douglas, is facing.
Pearson has a long history of helping people overcome the mundane barriers to voting, like calling friends and family to make sure they are registered and providing rides to the polls. She’s also a black woman in a small south Georgia town that once made its wealth from tobacco farming, and her work and leadership clearly strike a chord with white residents and power-brokers.
Over a year ago, Pearson, along with several other residents, were brought to court over felony charges related to “illegal voter assistance.” To be clear: no one is charged with trying to improperly influence a vote (besides, if you’re a super PAC with lots of money that’s perfectly legal thanks to the Citizens United case). The crux of the charges against Pearson boil down to one day back in 2012 when she helped a first-time voter navigate the voting machines.
The other residents took plea deals — perhaps more a sign that they simply did not want to be engaged in a protracted legal battle than any admission of wrongdoing — but Pearson has stayed in the fight.
Last month, Pearson finally saw a small victory: the court declared a mistrial, the majority-white jury simply couldn’t reach a decision. And, while Pearson earned a small reprieve — and some time to spend with grandkids — the assistant district attorney has vowed to try the case again as soon as possible.
“This is supposed to cause fear in those who would dare stand up for themselves,” said Pearson’s attorney Nefertara Clark, according to Buzzfeed, which has closely tracked the case.
And the story goes on to point out:
If Republicans could point to a criminal conviction, they could use it to vindicate their argument that voter fraud is a problem in the state. And for activists, it’s not just about Pearson, it’s about protecting hard-won rights.
A new trial date has not been set, but Pearson still has a long fight ahead to clear her name.