Some voters given wrong ballots

Published 10:38 pm Monday, August 8, 2016

Some people who voted absentee in Selma’s upcoming municipal elections were given the wrong ballots.

The problem revolves around the voters’ list, which assigned some residents to the wrong ward.

Carl Nelson with the Dallas County Board of Registrars said his office is working with the city to correct the list this week.

Anyone who votes in person at a polling place Aug. 23 should be given the right ballot, according to Nelson.

The issue was discussed at length Friday during a special city council work session. Ed Packard, an election administrator with the Alabama Secretary of State’s Office, came to answer questions and offer advice.

Several city council members said it appears that redistricting following the 2010 Census was never applied to the voters’ list.

“They did not take the maps following those streets they were explicitly given. Those lines were drawn a certain way, but the voters’ rolls were never changed,” said Councilwoman Bennie Ruth Crenshaw.

Nelson said the registrars’ office had nothing to do with updating the district lines or inputting that information. The city used the state of Alabama to redraw its maps and Alabama State University to apply the changes.

“The city got the damn wards mixed up,” Nelson said. “When the city drew out their lines, they just got it wrong … we didn’t put that information in the computer. They hired an outside source.”

Packard said voters given the wrong ballot have a couple of options. He said voters who know what ward they live in but were given an incorrect ballot can request a provisional ballot.

“The fail-safe mechanism is if people know what district they should be in … but don’t show up on the voters’ list in that precinct is to vote a provisional ballot,” Packard said.

The issue is more complicated for people who have already been issued ballots. As long as ballots have not been marked, they can be returned to City Hall and a replacement ballot will be given.

Once the ballots have been marked, there is little that can be done.

“The individuals who have already voted their ballots and mailed them in — there’s not going to be any recourse for them,” Packard said.

Neither the city nor the board of registrars knows exactly how many errors there are in the voters’ list. Packard said he doesn’t think there were many errors, though.

Councilman Cecil Williamson figured there were at least five errors concerning Ward 1 on the first day of absentee voting.

Several council members said they observed similar issues in the 2012 election. Packard asked why then the problems weren’t addressed earlier.

“So this originally surfaced in the 2012 election … I’d be curious if it happened in 2012 why are we two weeks away from the municipal election and this hasn’t been addressed,” Packard said. “It certainly hasn’t been brought to our attention in the secretary of state’s office.”

MORE REGISTERED VOTERS THAN ADULTS

The council also discussed the number of people on the voters’ rolls. There are about 2,000 more people on the voters’ lists than adults over the age of 18 in Selma.

There are about 15,600 registered voters in Selma, but only approximately 13,700 adults, according to numbers from the 2010 Census.

“We have a couple thousands more on the voters’ list than we have over the age of 18? Is there anything that can be done?” Williamson asked.

Packard said it isn’t unheard of for cities to have more registered voters than residents.

“There are several jurisdictions around the state that have more than 100 percent of their voting population registered to vote,” Packard said.

People moving from one community to another and deaths are the main causes of the bloated voters list, according to Packard. He said after the Presidential election in November, the state would work to purge its lists in January.

Other council concerns were people voting in the election that may own property in Selma but not live in the city and absentee voting fraud.

CAMERA CONCERNS

City Council Michael Johnson also asked Packard for his opinion on a security camera in the city clerk’s office at City Hall.

Johnson and other council members have expressed concern over the camera recording people casting absentee ballots.

An attorney from the secretary of state’s office came to Selma last week to investigate the camera. Packard told the council his opinion would be to take the camera down during the election.

“The bottom line is our office believes because of the perceptional issues that have been raised … we believe the camera should either be turned off or be uninstalled,” Packard said.

Packard said his office would be fine with the camera if it was focused on the door as a security measure and not able to record people casting their ballots.

“It could have a chilling effect on voters if they think they are being filmed marking their ballots. They might choose not to vote. That could lead to those voters being disenfranchised,” Packard said.

Selma Mayor George Evans said the Alabama League of Municipalities advised City Attorney Jimmy Nunn the cameras were fine if used for security.

“The camera was placed there as a result of talking with the league of municipalities, and the lawyers there based on security purposes. The camera was never put there to violate anyone’s rights,” Evans said.

Evans said he wished the secretary of state’s office had contacted him about the camera and their opinion earlier.

“Why is it just now being said to me that they should be removed?” Evans asked. “I just wish someone from your office or yourself had said this earlier … it’s very embarrassing to come and be saying it today. The reality is you haven’t gone to look at it and determine it’s not being monitored.”

Packard said the attorney that visited Selma last week has been out of town, but he still wanted to answer Johnson’s question.

“I was only invited yesterday. I wasn’t prepared to address that issue, but I do feel like since I was asked about that issue by a sitting city council member that I have an obligation to be transparent and provide that information,” Packard said. “If I’m asked a question, I’m going to answer a question.”

Packard said anyone with concerns about voter fraud should report it online at stopvoterfraudnow.com.

If someone wants to discuss an issue but not file a formal complaint, they can call the Secretary of State’s Office toll-free at (800) 274-8683.

Packard advised voters with any questions on Election Day to try to resolve them with the chief inspector at each polling place. If that doesn’t work, voters should contact the city clerk’s office or the secretary of state’s office.

“If you go into a polling place, and there is a question about your qualifications or whether you are voting in the right place or district, never just go home and give up,” Packard said.