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Election board meeting gets deep on ballot requirements

election board

More important than a credit card – Election board member William Bell shows his voter registration card, which he carries everywhere, to fellow board members (sitting l-r) Tara Canon, Sheralee Brindell, Jack Barnes and Election Supervisor Julianne Roberts standing. Not shown, board member Paul Lindsey out of frame at far end of table.

The board of elections held a detailed, deep and somewhat heated discussion regarding voter purges and the amount of leeway they might exercise with absentee ballots Tuesday (January 8th).

Adriana Gutierrez, a member of the public, encouraged the local elections board to go above and beyond state requirements to not turn voters away due to minor issues.

She told the board that during the mid-term elections, she experienced a “profoundly disturbing” situation when she saw someone not allowed to vote as they had been purged from the state voter rolls.

She encouraged the local board to do everything they could, including possibly sending certified letters to let people know they were being purged from the rolls. Elections Supervisor Julianne Roberts explained that people have previously been purged by the state after they fail to vote in two consecutive general elections – meaning they had not voted at all in eight years. But this may change with legislation being introduced this year.

Election board member William Bell said the number one issue involves addresses. Either people here don’t know the address they used to register or there is confusion with Big Canoe and Bent Tree addresses. Bell said that as far as state records are concerned Big Canoe does not exist as a legal address – they are technically Jasper.

The meeting heated up when elections board member Sheralee Brindell said she also wanted to discuss absentee rejections. She referenced figures first stated by Gutierrez that in Pickens County they sent out 285 absentee ballots, received 244 of those back and rejected 22, giving a 9 percent rejection rate here. She said statewide about 2 percent of absentee ballots were rejected.

If those figures are correct, then Pickens County is “off the chart” with being too tight in their allowance for minor problems with absentee ballots, Brindell said.

“If I suddenly transpose two digits in my zip code, you will not believe I am not really me,” she said. “If an elector makes a single, simple mistake, we owe them counting their vote.”

However, the other board members expressed concern that they simply don’t have the legal leeway to overlook inaccurate data.

Bell said it’s not just a simple form someone is filling out, it is an oath they swear to that all the information is correct.  Bell, who got his voter registration card from his wallet, said he carries his everywhere and considers it more important than a credit card.

Brindell also expressed opposition to the board on whether they must reject ballots that have minor errors or are “permitted” to reject them, meaning they have some leeway.

Elections Supervisor Juliane Roberts said they are taught that the ballots must match the person’s registration information and if they do not, the ballot shall be rejected without exception. Though she said at the office anyone filling a form in person or bringing by an absentee ballot is given time to correct mistakes.

Several board members expressed concern that they don’t have the authority for further leeway and they could set the county up for a lawsuit by not following well defined procedures.

Board chair Jack Barnes said they also need to consider that Pickens’ higher rate may result from a small population and that counties with large populations may skew the averages lower. The board agreed that they needed to do more comparison of rates.

Board member Paul Lindsey also said that perhaps the problem is not Pickens with a high rejection rate, but what is going on in counties with low rejection rates – as in they are the ones not performing their duties.

Brindell said she feels like the only one on the board who believes they are rejecting too many ballots and wanted them to consider “relaxing at least some of it.”

Bell offered a compromise that ultimately these ballot issues are going to be decided at state level but in the meantime, the local board can do a widespread marketing and education campaign to better inform voters on how to fill out absentee ballots and other issues to reduce the mistakes to begin with.