If you live in Lowndes County and are of voting age, it’s a safe bet that Perman Hardy has spoken with you about voting at some point in the past 25 years.
As one of the thousands of sharecroppers who worked white men’s land in Lowndes County over the years, 59-year-old Hardy recalls picking cotton after school growing up. She eventually finished her education, bought her own home, and had a successful career as a home health nurse.
But for the past two-and-a-half decades, Hardy has dedicated much of her free time to another pursuit: trying to ensure that every single person in Lowndes County shows up to the polls for every election in Alabama. A native of the unincorporated community of Collirene, she has done about as much as one person possibly could to boost turnout in the impoverished, majority-black county with a population of just 10,458 people.
“That’s my goal is to make sure everyone votes. That’s always been my goal. This is what I do every election,” she said as she steered her forest-green Chevrolet Tahoe through Collirene, a rural area that was once home to several cotton plantations that employed generations of slaves and sharecroppers. “We’re in an epidemic poverty county so it’s so important for us to vote today,” she told AL.com. “I took some people today who’ve never cast a ballot before.”
Most of the people Hardy transported Tuesday were black supporters of Democrat Doug Jones, which contributed to his win in the Black Belt county, where 3,779 people voted for Jones and just 988 voted for Republican Roy Moore, a margin of 79.1 percent to 20.7 percent. Black voters played a decisive role in Jones’s victory in the hotly contested Senate election, with 96 percent of African-Americans voting for Jones, versus the 30 percent of white voters who backed him Tuesday, according to a Washington Post poll.
On Tuesday morning, Hardy took sisters Almedia and Pamela Rush from their mobile home to the church where they both voted for Jones.
“I feel it’s important because of Roy Moore. I don’t like his policies; I don’t like the things he be talking about,” Almedia Rush said. “I always vote. One vote makes a whole lot of difference.”
Hardy picked up one pecan picker from an orchard, took him to his polling station, then dropped him back off at work after he voted. She spent five minutes Tuesday afternoon convincing 79-year-old Jones supporter Susan Mae Holcombe that she should forget about the fact that she did not feel like she was dressed well enough and come with her to vote at Collirene’s Old Bethel Baptist Church, a longtime polling station with just a single voting machine.
“This is such a crucial moment. It’s so crucial. You’ve got to vote,” Hardy told Holcombe in her living room after showing up at her house Tuesday afternoon. “It will only take a couple of minutes; you’ll be back in the house in 10 minutes.”
Holcombe eventually relented, and as she rode back to her home she admitted that she was glad she had been convinced to vote. “It’s a blessing,” Holcombe said. “I want Doug Jones to win so the kids can go to school and have something for themselves.”
‘Just what I do’
Hardy’s work does not end when the polls close.
She helps sign up local students enrolled at out-of-state colleges to vote absentee, using a portable scanner plugged into her Tahoe’s cigarette lighter socket to scan their driver’s licenses and Social Security cards and submitting the forms on their behalf.
She also goes to farms around the county and signs up people for absentee voting right there in the fields where they work. And she incessantly works her tiny outdated cellphone in between destinations, loudly goading people into voting.
“You come out to the country today to vote; you go to Whitehall and vote. Do whatever you want the rest of the day but I need you at the poll today,” Hardy told one reluctant voter.
“This person right here lives in Selma but she has to come here to Whitehall to vote,” Hardy added after she hung up the phone. She later went to her polling station and ensured the woman actually voted, as she does with many of her neighbors. She says she simply will not allow anyone to fall through the cracks or avoid casting a ballot in Lowndes County, which has a long history of fighting for voting rights.
The fact that polling stations in the county seem to have run smoothly on Tuesday also helped make it easy for residents to exercise their franchise. “All in all, it’s been very happy and we haven’t had any complaints,” Lenny Lawson, an election clerk at Old Bethel Baptist Church said. “I think people just really want to come out and show support for their candidate.”
At the end of each Election Day, Hardy says she is able to look at herself in the mirror and know that she did everything within her power to help people make their voices heard. “If you can’t reach down and pick somebody up, just don’t do anything at all. But don’t ask me how I do it, don’t ask me how. It’s just what I do,” she said. “Everyone’s got a purpose and God made me a person who goes out and serves the public and serves the community.”