DA Resigns Over Voting Flap

After accusations arose about alleged his involvement inattempts to prevent Prairie View A&M University students fromparticipating in local elections last year Oliver Kitzman, districtattorney of Prairie View in Waller County, Texas, has resigned.

Kitzman claimed that college students could not vote in a statewhere they did not hold status as a permanent resident.  Healso threatened that students who declared Prairie View a permanentplace of residence would be prosecuted.

From 1969 until 1979, Kitzman served as thedistrict attorney of three counties.  He also served as ajudge until he was appointed Waller County’s top law enforcementofficial in January 2003.  It was then he announced thatPrairie View students might be ineligible to vote.

Prairie View A&M University is ahistorically Black university (HBCU) located in WallerCounty.  The student population, amounting to nearly 7,000would have comprised 20 percent of the votes in the predominantlywhite county.

This suppression tactic was allegedly used toconfuse college students of the actual meaning of”permanent.”  College students would not have risked beingprosecuted for the sake of a voting.

Student body president Hendrik Maisonexpressed frustration over last year’s occurrence.

“They’re happy to have students spend money inthe community and provide jobs to the residents, but they don’twant students to have a say in how they are governed during theiryears of residency.” 

In February 2004 Maison, other student leadersand Rap the Vote, a project of Rock the Vote, launched a campaignto resist voter suppression and increase student involvement in theupcoming presidential elections.

Prairie View A&M University brought asimilar case to the U.S. Supreme Court in which the result upheldthe students’ right to vote. In 1979, Symms v. United States thecourt ruled that “a student may not be able to state with certitudethat he intends to permanently live in the university community,such a declaration is not necessary to establish domicile.” If students do not plan to become a permanent resident, they couldstill exercise their right to vote.

Racial tension has been a long-seated issuewithin Waller County.  There have been lawsuits and otherdocumented complaints of discrimination and civil rights violationsfiled by local Black leaders and activists who described Kitzman asa “reign of terror.”

Ann Davis, Waller County Republican Partychairwoman disagrees with these allegations and the overallexistence of social injustice.  “Waller County is my home,people get along here.”

At a county Republican meeting, Kitzmanannounced his plans to step down.  He assured that hisdecision is “personal and private” and does not involve racialaccusations set against him.  Disappointed by the conditionssurrounding his resignation Kitzman stated:

 “I’d rather have rode out of here on abig white horse, but it’s not necessary.  I’ve had a rewardingcareer.  Life goes on.”