ALBANY I’ll tell you all the story about the joker and the thief of the night.
Because I will be using information in this column provided by someone who asked that (his/her) name and occupation not be mentioned — for reasons that will become obvious — I’d like to clear up a misconception some people obviously have.
Journalists live and die by the sources who provide them with information. People in general are anxious to share such information that is important to them and their community, but many are unwilling to go on record as a named source. Sometimes their reluctance is a matter of personal preference; other times it is all about self-preservation.
Even the veracity of unnamed sources is verified by credible journalists, though. And, in return, any journalist worth his or her salt will go to extreme limits not to reveal a source’s identity. It’s the way the business works.
I got a second report recently from a reliable source who claimed that persons associated with Turner Job Corps in Albany are having students at the job training center register to vote in local elections and are then telling the students en masse who to vote for.
The source noted that most of the TJC students involved are not from the area and have very little interest in local politics. However, when many of the students were asked how they determined which candidates to support, they indicated they had been coached not only on how but also for whom to vote.
Normally, the deniability of the claim would keep me from mentioning it in this space. It’s easy enough to say the person making the claim had an ax to grind (not so in this case, but that’s beside the point) or the “he said, she said” argument is enough to cloud the issue beyond credibility.
I chose to bring up the accusation, however, because of personal experience.
When I was covering the Albany/Dougherty County government beat for this newspaper a few years ago, I traveled to one of the East Albany voting precincts on election day to do a story — based on a tip from a TJC supporter — about a large number of students at the center being bused to the precinct to vote for the first time. It was one of those feel-good stories I couldn’t resist.
I talked with Turner Job Corps officials who’d chaperoned the transport of students to the precinct, and then I randomly questioned some of the students. One young man spoke candidly about the process, and I ended up spending a little more time with him than I did some of the other students I interviewed.
As I was getting set to head back to the office, I encountered the young man once more. I told him I had one more question for him.
“You’re from another state and haven’t been here very long,” I started, basing my question on information he’d given me earlier. “Have you kept up with the campaign so that you could make a decision on which candidates to support?”
The young man gave me a crooked smile.
“Nah,” he said. “They told us who to vote for on the way over here.”
I pressed him on the comment, but he didn’t say who had coached the students on their vote. I asked one of the school chaperones about the young man’s remarks, and she denied having knowledge of such an exchange.
Not having more than the student’s claim to go on, I dropped the issue and had all but forgotten it when I heard from the aforementioned source that TJC students were being given a list of candidates and told to vote for those candidates in the most recent local elections.
“Obviously, the students are alone when they cast their votes,” the source said, “but it goes against all that is fair to coerce a large group of young people that has no interest in or knowledge of local politics to vote for a particular candidate. In a very close election, it could determine the outcome.”
While Turner Job Corps has had its share of bad publicity during its tenure in Albany, I have known a number of people who were administrators or staff members at the center who have had a positive impact on TJC students. I’ve also seen evidence of good things the center’s students have done in the community.
It would be a shame to see Turner Job Corps’ good works sullied by those who would use the sacred voting rights of individuals as a means of furthering their own selfish personal agendas.
Email Carlton Fletcher at firstname.lastname@example.org.