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Golden roads, voter scams and $20 bills

POSTED: December 14, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Because so many new voters are on the rolls, no doubt when votes are counted Nov. 4, howls will come from all corners about fraud or efforts to keep certain voters from casting legitimate ballots.

Some believe the state's voter identification law is but an effort to discourage some voters. Those who support it say it is designed to prevent voter fraud.

While there have been few documented incidents of fraud in recent years, Georgia does have a history of voting missteps. In years past, people long ago dead "voted" in some elections.

The poll tax is the best known of efforts to discourage voting. Gov. Ellis Arnall abolished it during his term in the early 1940s. Arnall was known as a progressive governor who also lowered the voting age to 18. Georgia became the first state to do so, with Arnall declaring during World War II that if people were old enough to fight a war at that age, they ought to be old enough to vote.

The poll tax had been a sore source of controversy. Potential voters had to pay $1 months in advance of an election. Years after women were granted the right to vote, there still seemed to be some discrimination. Men who became 21 after Jan. 1 didn't have to pay poll taxes that year, but still were able to vote in the next primary if otherwise registered. Women, however, who registered after Jan. 1 had to pay poll taxes.

Though Arnall's administration repealed the tax, a statement remained in the constitution that no poll tax should ever be more than $1.

Georgia also was notorious for its county unit system that awarded unit votes ranging from six for the most populated counties to two for the least. It was designed to allow rural counties to dominate those that had large cities, such as Atlanta, Macon and Columbus.

It created a cities vs. rural tug-of-war every election, with rural voters almost always dominating. Gene Talmadge, wearing his horn-rimmed glasses and red suspenders, got 118 county unit votes more than seven other candidates combined in the 1932 Democratic gubernatorial primary. The opponents, however, led by 43,000 popular votes.

But the county units gave Talmadge the victory and the governor's office because Republicans didn't field a candidate. The county unit system applied only to primaries, not the general election, but the primary winner was the only candidate on the November ballot. It wasn't until 1962 that courts finally threw the system out.

• • •

The old Gainesville-Dawsonville Highway actually was paved with gold. It wasn't the highway to heaven, but gold-bearing gravel was used when the road was hard-surfaced in the late 1930s. The State Highway Department at the time claimed the gravel used in the paving contained about 40 cents of gold per cubic yard. The material came from the west side of the Etowah River.

S.P. Cronheim, a mining expert at the time, said renewed digging for gold caused small amounts of the fine mineral to be washed from excavations when it rained. He was a proponent of continued mining for gold throughout North Georgia.

Some thought Belmont in south Hall County could become a site for another gold rush in that same period. John H. Lancaster found some while panning with an ordinary cooking skillet in Carter Creek. He produced a half-ounce nugget worth about $25 at the time, as well as some other flecks of gold.

Some earlier mining had been done near the creek's intersection with Hayes Creek. Lancaster was searching old mines when he found his gold, along with a trace of platinum.

• • •

Many Native Americans won't carry $20 bills, said Tim Alan Garrison, speaking at the monthly forum at Northeast Georgia History Center at Brenau University Tuesday night. That's because they feature a picture of Andrew Jackson, seventh U.S. president, who presided over the removal of Indians, including North Georgia's Cherokees, from their homelands to new territories.

Yet Garrison, a Gainesville native who is director of Native American Studies at Portland State University, said many others can share the blame with Jackson, who fought Indians as an Army officer. Governors, lawmakers and Southern judges made decisions that almost always went against the Indians, he said.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. His column appears Sundays and on gainesvilletimes.com.



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