State already has complaints on election

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 6, 2002

Wilcox County is no stranger to political controversy. After Tuesday night’s election debacle, the two may become best friends.

The Alabama Secretary of State’s office has received numerous complaints about voter intimidation and citizens meandering in and out of polling locations in Wilcox on Tuesday.

“We’ve already sent the complaints to the Attorney General’s office,” said Vicky Balogh, an elections official for Secretary of State Jim Bennett.

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The AG’s office couldn’t comment specifically. They could comment about Wilcox County, though.

“Seems like we’ve had some problems there before,” said Susanne Smith, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Bill Pryor.

Smith has a good memory. In 1997, two women were accused of voting in the absentee box seven times. Johnita Mason and Doris Mason both pleaded guilty to voter fraud and were sentenced to a 12-month, suspended prison sentence.

In Tuesday’s primary election, Wilcox was one of a handful counties that did not report their results before midnight. In fact, Probate Judge Jerry Boggan sat in his Camden office Wednesday afternoon calling out votes and hand-counting the returns.

According to Boggan, election machines did not output the correct results Tuesday night. That forced the re-count Wednesday, which was still not official as of press time.

Hollis Curl, editor and publish of the weekly newspaper in Camden, said the courthouse in Camden on Tuesday was “in a state of complete chaos.&uot;

“Despite state-of-the-art vote-tallying computers, officials under the direction of Probate Judge Jerry Boggan were unable to function in an orderly enough manner to keep track of boxes as they came in,” The Wilcox Progressive Era reported Wednesday.

“At around 9 p.m., Judge Boggan, Deputy Evans and a convict in an orange jumpsuit began trying to get the computer printer to output a running total of returns, but the machine which reads the tapes from the individual voting boxes would not work.”

And that’s just the start of it. One candidate for Wilcox County Commission District 4 said that nearly 200 votes were taken from him during the recount.

According to Boggan’s office, incumbent Elijah Shaw III won the election outright over Raymond Etheridge, who claimed votes were taken from him.

However, unofficial numbers released by the Probate Judge’s office do not reflect that the incumbent has won the election yet. Unofficial numbers say Shaw received 376 votes, while Etheridge received 189. The total votes cast in the four-person race equaled 768. If that proves to be accurate, Shaw has only won 48.9 percent of the votes. A candidate must win 50.1 percent of the vote, and Shaw was seven votes shy of that number.

County Commission District 3 was even more eventful. Incumbent Darryl Perryman apparently tip-toed into a run-off. Michael Saulsberry unofficially received 510 of 1,024 votes cast in that election. That amounts to 49.8 percent of the vote — three votes shy of the needed 50.1 percent.

And in the County Commission District 6 race, incumbent David Wright will face a run-off against Reginald Southall. Wright received 45 percent of the vote, while Southall received 33 percent.

Finally, the absentee voting box could prove to become an item of controversy in the Wilcox County elections.

According to Curl, 702 votes were cast in the absentee voting box. Unofficially, 5,079 votes were cast in Wilcox County races. In other words, 14 percent of the votes cast in the election were absentee votes.

According to Dallas County Probate Judge Johnny Jones, Dallas County had a normal amount of absentee votes cast in Tuesday’s primary. Of more than 12,700 votes cast, less than 650 were absentee votes — a total of 5 percent. In the 2000 Dallas County election, which featured the famed mayoral election between James Perkins and Joe Smitherman, 1,200 absentee ballots were cast and more than 14,000 votes were cast at polling locations. Jones said that was an extremely high number of absentee votes, and that number only equaled 11 percent.

No controversy

There was one election in Wilcox County that does not seem to have generated any controversy. Sheriff Prince Arnold easily won re-election over challenger John Brown.

According to unofficial results from Boggan’s office, Arnold received 69 percent of the vote, compared to Brown’s 21 percent.