Dallas County registrar refutes claims of voter suppression

Published 11:52 am Saturday, December 23, 2017

Voting officials in Dallas County are refuting allegations of voter suppression made by a Doug Jones campaign volunteer during last week’s U.S. Senate election.

Patricia Gaines, who lives in Springville, wrote an opinion piece that published in one of Canada’s largest newspapers, The Globe and Mail, that alleged voters were suppressed in Selma and Dallas County. She also appeared on MSNBC’s “The Last Word.”

Sonny Nelson, a member of the Dallas County Board of Registrars and a poll worker, said there are always minor issues during an election, and last Tuesday’s was not out of the ordinary.

“All in all, it was a pretty smooth election as far as we were concerned. I don’t see any major problems anywhere,” Nelson said.

“I think she just exaggerated a lot of things. We didn’t have any major complaints from anybody that I know of.”

Gaines, who once lived in Selma, wrote that Dec. 12 was the first time she returned to the city since she said her family was “run out” of town. Her father, Thad Ellisor, was pastor at Church Street United Methodist Church from 1957 until 1961. According to records from Government Street United Methodist Church, he served as pastor there from 1961 until 1966.

Gaines spent Dec. 12 in Selma giving voters a ride to the polls.

“We went to help get out the vote, but instead we were bombarded by requests to help where voters were being turned away,” Gaines wrote. “The barrage of requests — to investigate problems with ID, problems with the voting booths, problems with voter lists — filled our day.”

Gaines’ first allegation is that the IDs of African American women were questioned. She wrote one woman, who she transported to the polls, “eventually found a new piece of identification and was able to vote.”

Nelson said there are typically problems with people having proper identification, but if so, those voters are allowed to cast a provisional ballot.

“There were some where people didn’t have proper ID, but that was rectified, and they could vote a provisional ballot, which they did,” Nelson said.

An Alabama law requires voters to have a specific type of identification to vote.

There are 10 valid forms of ID, including driver’s license, non-driver ID, Alabama photo voter ID, state and federal IDs and passports among other forms of identification.

Gaines also alleged voters were turned away because a voting machine was down.

Nelson said two machines did mess up that day. He said one machine was down for about an hour, but it was replaced. The other, he said, was down for around 15-20 minutes.

“Of course folks have to wait, and they get antsy for having to wait, but that’s just the way it goes sometimes,” Nelson said.

Gaines also alleged that voters had to wait in line for hours.

“We encouraged voters — many of whom were African Americans, many of whom had been standing in line for hours — to stay, and brought food and hot chocolate,” Gaines wrote.

“I work the polls myself, and my wife works them all the time. She works one of the biggest polls at Valley Grande, and they’ve never had to wait that long,” Nelson said. “That again is another exaggeration, I think. We never have had anybody complaint to us about it.”

The top five precincts in Dallas County for the Dec. 12 election were Tipton School with 2,170 votes, Valley Grande Community Center with 1,587, Orrville Community Center with 1,247, Woodrow Avenue Fire Station with 1,214 and Barrett Road United Methodist Church with 1,090.

Nelson said allegations against the voting process in Dallas County upset many people in his office and others that work the polls.

“It upset us, and nothing like that happened,” he said.

Dallas County Probate Judge Kim Ballard said there were no major issues with the election that he was aware of.

He said if the complaints were more specific and detailed, he would be able to look into them.

“I’d rather deal with specific accusations,” Ballard said.

Multiple attempts to reach Gaines for comment were not successful.