March 14, 2004
Middle Tennessee News & Information
He wanted every vote to matter; Athan Gibbs, Sr. dies in crash
By Holly Edwards, Staff Writer
After more than 1 million votes went uncounted in the last presidential election, Athan Gibbs Sr. devoted his life to making sure voters in future elections would know their votes mattered.
The enterprising 57-year-old saw his invention of the TruVote vote-casting system as nothing less than the key to social justice and democracy in America.
As family members and business partners gathered at the TruVote office yesterday morning to mourn Mr. Gibbs' death, they vowed that his dream would not die with him.
Mr. Gibbs was killed about 10:30 a.m. Friday in a car crash on Interstate 65 near Eighth Avenue North as he drove from his north Nashville home to his downtown office at Tennessee State University's Business Incubation Center.
Metro police said Mr. Gibbs lost control of his Chevy Blazer after he cut in front of an 18-wheeler and the two vehicles collided. The Blazer rolled several times in the southbound lanes, went over the retaining wall and came to rest on its roof on the northbound side. Gibbs was ejected, police said.
Before his sudden death, friends and family said, Mr. Gibbs worked tirelessly on the TruVote system and, with backing from Microsoft Inc., was marketing his invention nationwide.
''He loved God, he loved people and he loved democracy, and we're going to keep his dream going,'' said Mr. Gibbs' 25-year-old son, Jonathan, who worked with his father on the project. ''It's more important than ever now to make sure his vision becomes a reality.''
Mr. Gibbs spent about three years and roughly $2 million — including thousands of dollars from his own bank account — to develop and market the electronic vote-casting system. TruVote allows voters to touch their candidates' names on a computer screen and receive receipts of their vote at the end of the process. They can then go to a Web site, punch in their voter validation number and make sure their vote was recorded.
U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, a Democrat who represents Davidson, the eastern half of Cheatham and the western half of Wilson County in Congress, said the TruVote system was ''one of the most promising technologies in the world for fixing democracies.''
With a federal mandate for states to review and upgrade their vote casting systems by 2006, Mr. Gibbs' invention was getting increasing attention nationwide, Cooper said.
''Every once in awhile, we see a fundamental need in this country and someone comes up with a fundamental discovery to fill that need, and that's what Athan had,'' Cooper said. ''This is a tragic loss for the entire country.''
Mr. Gibbs was driven by his experiences growing up in Memphis in the 1950s and '60s, when minorities were struggling to exercise their right to vote. After a U.S. Commission on Civil Rights study of the 2000 presidential election showed that votes cast by African-Americans in Florida, a decisive state, were 10 times more likely to be rejected, Mr. Gibbs knew he had to take action.
His quests for democracy and social equality also were driven by his religious faith, and he served as an associate minister at Mount Zion Baptist Church in Nashville.
''As an African-American clergyman, Athan was consumed by a desire for justice, equality and freedom for all people,'' said the Rev. Enoch Fuzz, pastor of Corinthian Missionary Baptist Church. ''And, he just ran out full speed ahead and tried to accomplish that.''
Mr. Gibbs was an accountant and financial auditor for 30 years and started his own company, INCO Tax Service of Tennessee. He received a bachelor of business administration degree from Tennessee State University and a bachelor of theology degree from American Baptist College.
In the 1970s, former U.S. Rep. Bob Clement hired Mr. Gibbs as a financial analyst when Clement headed the Tennessee Public Service Commission. The two remained close friends over the past three decades, and Clement had been serving as a business consultant for TruVote.
Clement said Mr. Gibbs' energy and idealism were infectious, and he called Mr. Gibbs ''one of the finest people I've met in my life.''
''We in the U.S. have one of the worst voting records in the world, and Athan was out to fix that,'' he said. ''A lot of people have ideas but never carry them out. Athan was following through on his dream, and his energy level was phenomenal. I don't think he ever slept.''
In addition to his son, Mr. Gibbs is survived by his wife, Dorothy, and a daughter, Angela.
Funeral arrangements are pending and will be handled by Lewis and Wright Funeral Home in Nashville.
Copyright 2004 The Tennessean, A Gannett Co. Inc. newspaper
Associated Press content is Copyrighted by The Associated Press.
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