State and local officials have responded to a number of allegations and concerns from citizens about potential irregularities at the Union voting precinct in the June 6 general election.
Voters at Union precinct decided the Ward 5 city council election, in which Democratic incumbent Stephen Jones defeated Republican challenger Mark Ward, as well as voted for mayor.
Leon Speck, an election commissioner, said claims of issues with absentee ballots are the result of a poll worker disagreeing with others about signatures on an absentee envelope and corresponding application.
Speck said he was called to the precinct when issues arose during absentee ballot inspection. He said Bob Raymond, a poll worker, disagreed with two other poll workers on whether the absentee ballot envelope and application signatures matched. Speck said he told Raymond to go with the majority.
“The majority rules,” Speck said. “That’s the way it goes in everything dealing with the government. No matter who it is, what level it is or what it is, that’s what we have to go by.”
Election Commissioner Josie Shumake, who noted that poll workers do have the authority to review absentee signatures, said Speck’s account matched what she remembered happening at Union.
Speck said he contacted the Secretary of State’s office a few days after the election and confirmed he gave proper instruction. The Secretary of State’s office confirmed Speck’s account to The Dispatch.
Raymond contested Speck’s account. Raymond, in a letter to the editor published in the June 12 Dispatch and in a conversation with the newspaper, contended that another poll worker agreed with him that the signatures were “obviously different.” Raymond said city registrar Brenda Williams told him not to look at signatures and that he’s “not a handwriting expert.”
Williams refused to comment to The Dispatch on the specifics of the incident, other than to say she followed procedure.
The 2017 Municipal Elections Handbook, published by the Secretary of State’s office, lists “comparing the voter’s signature on the absentee ballot application with the voter’s signature on the absentee ballot envelope” as a poll worker duty.
Raymond said he filed a complaint about the incident with Attorney General Jim Hood’s office. Margaret Morgan, a spokesperson for the AG’s office, said the office could not “comment, confirm or deny” it received Raymond’s complaint.
Raymond also reached out to the Secretary of State’s office. Office spokesperson Leah Rupp Smith confirmed that Raymond’s concerns were relayed to Williams.
However, she also noted, in response to concerns that the Secretary of State’s office needs to be involved, that the office doesn’t directly oversee local elections.
“The Secretary of State’s office has no oversight authority over elections conducted at the municipal or county level,” Smith said. “Municipal election officials run municipal elections. The Secretary of State’s office offers certification training to all municipal clerks, election commissioners and party executive committee members.”
Poll watcher complaint
Raymond’s concerns were followed by those raised by Nan Lott, a poll watcher for Ward 5 Republican council candidate Mark Ward’s campaign. Lott said she was initially not allowed to sit near the poll workers’ table, though she was later moved closer to the table. She said she also had to argue to see the poll book, which is public record during elections.
The Secretary of State’s poll manager guide says candidates and poll watchers “shall be provided a suitable location from which he/she may be able to see and hear the conduct of the election.”
In a letter to the editor, Lott said there appeared to be an “air of intimidation” at the precinct. She maintained that position when The Dispatch interviewed her last week.
“It threatens poll officials sometimes when you’re there to observe,” she said. “They take it as you’re there to catch them doing something wrong, but you’re not.”
Speck said poll watchers are supposed to sit where the bailiff tells them to and watch the election. He said they can challenge ballots, but there have been problems in the past — typically at Union — with poll watchers. However, he did not say Lott had caused any problems on June 6.
“When they go to watch the polls, the bailiffs say you sit there and watch what’s going on,” Speck said. “You don’t move around through the poll. You try to be harmonious about it. Some people don’t. You have people coming there to look at things and see something — if they see something they don’t like they start raising cane.”
Alex Holloway was formerly a reporter with The Dispatch.