Sec. of State asked to join election fray

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Officials with the Secretary of State’s Office are being askedto look into last week’s Lincoln County Democratic primary after aballot examination Tuesday revealed unlocked precinct supply boxesand mismatched box seal numbers.

District Attorney Danny Smith stopped short of labeling anydiscrepancies as voter fraud.

“I’ve seen no evidence of that,” Smith told several candidatesand representatives who gathered in the circuit courtroom.

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Lincoln County Circuit Clerk Terry Lynn Watkins was awaitingword Wednesday morning on when a Secretary of State representativecould come to Lincoln County. She said the representative would beasked to mediate and answer questions regarding voting laws.

“I’m hoping they will send someone down here,” Watkins said.

Tuesday’s ballot examination was requested by sheriff’scandidate Robert Berry, who finished third in his primary, and PostOne constable candidate Charles Welch, who finished second but didnot quality for a runoff against primary winner Lavon Boyd. PostOne Justice Court Judge candidate Wanza McGuffie also signed aletter requesting a recount and was present Tuesday.

“It’s not because of my total, but because of the way thingswere done,” McGuffie said.

McGuffie’s letter referred to the breakdown of the vote-scanningmachine last Tuesday night, unauthorized people handling ballotsand a ballot box that was unlocked.

Tuesday’s activity never got to the recount stage after problemswere found with the Arlington supply box, which did not have a lockon it. Also, the Johnson supply box was not locked and the numberedprotective seal on it Tuesday did not match the one put on it lastweek. Brookhaven Police Chief Pap Henderson was called to thecourtroom and placed evidence tape on the boxes in question.

After Smith was called to Lincoln County, candidates agreed tohave him and Watkins inspect other ballot and supply boxes that hadbeen housed in the grand jury room since the primary.

Later, Watkins said there were “several” discrepancies. With thecandidates gathered in the grand jury room, Watkins gave abox-by-box evaluation of the ballot and supply box conditions.

Some supply boxes had locks that were missing or not locked orbroken seals. No ballot boxes had broken seals, Watkins said.

There was evidence that the Alexander ballot box had been priedopen. Watkins said she was told a poll worker had accidentally puther keys in the box and a jail trusty used a crowbar to open thebox last Tuesday night.

As in the past, trustys have been used to help carry ballot andsupply boxes to the courtroom from poll workers’ vehicles. LincolnCounty Sheriff Lynn Boyte said the Democratic Executive Committeerequested the help last week.

“They’ve done nothing except what they asked us to do,” Boytesaid.

Watkins suggested going forward and comparing ballot totals withpoll books and candidate totals.

“Those things have got to match or there’s a problem,” Watkinssaid.

After seeing the boxes, Berry said he was not interested inproceeding to a recount. He indicated the inspections confirmed hissuspicions last Tuesday that boxes were not handled properly.

Other candidates agreed.

“You still have a question about those boxes,” said taxassessor-collector candidate Rita Goss, adding that a deeperinvestigation is needed than what had been done Tuesday.

Goss said she had received a “tremendous” number of calls frompeople about Tuesday’s vote-counting machine problems.

“The voters were concerned about the machine going down,” Gosssaid.

After the suggestion to contact the Secretary of State’s officewas raised, Watkins said state officials will not be interested insupply box locks that were not locked.

“That should have been done, but that is human error,” saidWatkins, adding that state officials would look at the items shementioned earlier.

Watkins presided at Tuesday’s meeting, but she was not in chargeof conducting last week’s party primaries. That duty is theresponsibility of the county parties’ executive committees.

Lincoln County Democratic Executive Committee Chairman GeraldWilliams, who lined up poll workers and oversaw vote-countingactivity in last week’s primary, was not present Tuesday. Whencontacted last night, he mentioned a “candidates only” sign thatwas posted on the courtroom door.

“I turned around and went back home,” Williams said.

Citing a conversation with Secretary of State officials, Watkinssaid only candidates or their designated representatives areallowed to be present for the ballot examination. However,candidates agreed to allow several people remain in the courtroomTuesday.

After the problem boxes were found, candidates rejected asuggestion that Williams come to the courtroom to discuss thesituation. Williams Tuesday night did not wish to talk aboutvote-counting confusion or other issues until he had a chance tospeak with concerned candidates.

“I can’t comment on something I don’t know anything about,”Williams said. “I can’t comment until I talk to them.”