Even before election day ended with multiple races too close to call and affidavits still to be processed, poll workers and city officials were reporting an unusually high number of affidavit votes cast at the polls.
At Townsend Community Center, a Ward 1 polling precinct, there were eight affidavits by about 3 p.m. and 15 affidavits at 15th Street Church, a Ward 5 polling place, by 3:20. And at the end of the night, there were about 35 affidavit ballots cast at Brandon Central Services, the lone precinct in Ward 6.
Affidavit ballots are cast when poll workers cannot determine whether voters are registered or where their voting precinct is. The resolution board, which is appointed by the municipal election commission, then goes through the ballots to determine which ones are valid and count those.
In the 2017 general election, there were not enough affidavit ballots to change the outcome of any races after election day. This year, the 158 affidavits will help decide the mayor’s race among incumbent Democrat Robert Smith and independents Keith Gaskin and Montrell Coburn.
City Registrar Brenda Williams told poll workers who called her office Tuesday morning not to turn any voters away and to call her office if they couldn’t determine where individuals were supposed to vote. Poll workers reported calling the registrar as well as Lowndes County Circuit Clerk’s Office to determine whether some voters were registered before letting them cast affidavit ballots.
The registrar’s website specifies that some voters have different municipal voting precincts than county precincts.
Lee Roy Lollar, a poll worker at Brandon, said he had a hard time reaching the city registrar’s office and began calling the county clerk’s office.
Some of the confusion came because voters simply went to the wrong precinct Tuesday or because they vote at a different precinct in county and federal elections than in municipal elections. Poll workers at East Columbus Gym, a Ward 2 location, sent multiple voters who said they voted there in 2020 to Columbus High School, a Ward 3 location. Meanwhile at Columbus High, poll worker Linda Harris said she had sent some voters to Propst Park, a Ward 4 polling precinct.
Ward 2 Councilman Joseph Mickens and Ward 5 Councilman Stephen Jones, both of whom ran unopposed Tuesday, said the confusion over precincts likely comes at least partially from so many voters having different assigned precincts for federal and municipal elections. However, both said the number of affidavit ballots cast is concerning enough they feel the voter rolls were purged.
Jones added it didn’t seem to be one group of voters having more of a problem than others.
“I guess it’s something that should be looked into,” Jones said. “It wasn’t just Black people. It was Black and white.”
“Some questions need to be asked,” Mickens said. “I guess we’ll have to go down to Jackson (and ask) why were these people taken off the roll? If you’re telling me you voted in the presidential election, why is your name taken off now? Those are some questions that we need to find some answers to. Is it oversight? Is it a mistake? Those are questions that we need some answers to.”
State law authorizes municipalities to contract with county election commissioners to revise registration and pollbooks when necessary. Election commissioners are in charge of purging or updating pollbooks.
County election officials did not have the number of voters purged but said they would look into it. Williams did not answer a call from The Dispatch by press time to answer how many Columbus voters have been purged since 2020.