A secret society called the Machine was apparently behind the spate of free-drink-toting, limo-riding University of Alabama sorority girls who showed up to vote in the Tuscaloosa City Board of Education race last month.
The Machine has been around for more than 100 years and members are apparently culled from white fraternities and sororities, who pay at least $850 a year to fund the group. According to the Crimson White, that money goes in part toward toward "bar tabs for Machine representatives at parties and an annual beach trip for Machine representatives."
Once a stop on the Southern route to Congress (“You went to the University of Alabama, got into student government, got involved in the Machine, practiced law a little bit in your hometown, and you went to Washington.”), the Machine's influence has waned in recent years and largely controls University of Alabama student government.
According to current and former members of Machine-affiliated Greek organizations, each of the 28 fraternities and sororities associated with the Machine (many Greek organizations on campus are not) sends a pair of representatives to a secret group, often referred to as “going downstairs,” because the group meets in the basement of a fraternity house. Members decide which candidates to back for student government, homecoming queen and several honor societies. The fraternity-and-sorority rank and file are informed of the choices and put into action on Election Day. Their choices rarely lose.
The society has been pulled into national news this week with an election lawsuit and subsequent coverage by the New York Times.
Kelly Horowitz, who lost the District 4 seat to 26-year-old University of Alabama grad and former student government president Cason Kirby, filed suit this week alleging voter fraud and bribery. Although the Machine is not named in the complaint, the Times details the group's "apparent involvement."
“The limos and party bus are running constantly,” read one of numerous similar e-mails circulated around Machine-affiliated sororities on Election Day. Free drinks were promised at local bars for those wearing “I Voted” stickers. Sorority leaders were careful to emphasize that they were not endorsing a particular candidate but encouraged members to wear Cason Kirby T-shirts to the polls.
The numbers bear out their influence. Of the 369 voters registered in the district this year, 269 registered during one week in mid-August, and 94 percent of those newly registered voters were 21 or younger. Mr. Kirby won the race by 416 to 329 votes.
“They’re usually much more sophisticated than that,” Cleophus Thomas Jr, who in 1976 became the only non-Machine-sponsored black University of Alabama student government president, said. “This may be the ineptness that results from having no real competition.”