Problems plague polls during party primaries

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Tuesday’s party primaries were not without problems,unfortunately, as several citizens who have lived in the same placefor many years went to the polls and found themselves not on thevoter rolls.

Brookhaven Police Chief Pap Henderson, who lives on J.W. MorganWay; Police Capt. Bobby Bell; and city Democratic Committee memberDoc Harrison were all among citizens who had to vote by affidavitballot because when they arrived to vote, they were told they werepossibly in the wrong ward.

Both City Clerk Mike Jinks and Circuit Clerk Terry Lynn Watkinssaid it was hard to pinpoint what exactly caused the problem. Jinkssaid his office had submitted city information to Watkins’ office,and Watkins said the streets submitted by people who had to voteaffidavit were not on the list of those to be moved after thecity’s annexation in 2007.

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“We haven’t changed them, so apparently they could have been inthe wrong ward all along,” Watkins said. “For instance, J.W. MorganWay was not on the list to change that we received. When you havean annexation and some of the ward lines change, you’re going tohave situations like this.”

Jinks said the problem could lie with a new voting system beingused statewide. He said his office submits the information to thecircuit clerk’s office, but that the problem doesn’t necessarilylie in the inputting of the information. It could have been asystem malfunction.

“I don’t know why they were changed. We had people who had beenvoting in the same place for 15-20 years,” he said. “It could havebeen the voting system for the city. All the city people are stillin the system because we vote in the county, so there have toparameters set for the city wards.”

The system input is done by Watkins’ office, Jinks said, and atsome point he had understood that there were problems with thesystem. That was near the time that Watkins was sidelined with somehealth issues that also caused training conflicts on the votingmachines used in the state, national and county elections.

“I don’t if it’s in the input or something wrong with thesystem, I know when I was doing the machine, we had someinformation from Terry that there were problems with the system,”Jinks said. “Once we did annexation we took her the street rangesand they’re the ones who did the input.”

But the affidavit ballot problems were not the only ones at thepolls.

“I was really appalled by the election process – how it washandled, how it was done,” said alderman at large candidate TerryPappas, venting frustration about things he witnessed Tuesday whilevisiting the polls, especially Ward Three. “Something needs to bedone, and somebody needs to be in charge. All I heard yesterday is,’No it isn’t me, it’s them, them, them,’ pointing a finger. It waskind of embarrassing being involved in that process.”

More confusion occurred in Ward Four’s Republican Primary, wherea pair of poll workers tallying votes in the race for Ward Fouralderman came up with irreconcilable numbers after an additionalhour of double-checking.

Dennis Valentine, temporary chairman of municipal RepublicanParty committee, estimated the difference between the two tallysheets to be approximately 25 votes. Given the nearly two to onelead gathered by winning candidate Shirley Estes by night’s end,however, the discrepancy would not have affected the outcome ofeither race.

Meanwhile, at Ward Three, poll workers did not inform somevoters that they could vote affidavit until after that problem hadbeen brought to their attention around lunchtime.

“Of course Ward Three was a mess from the beginning of the daytill the end of the day. There was so many things messed up,” saidPappas. “We’ve been having elections in this city for 150 yearsnow. How long does it take to get it right? It’s not rocketscience.”

Ward Three alderman candidate Brian Moore said he was pollwatching and was discouraged to see voters not being told whichparty candidates were running in before they chose a party, as wellas being sent to the city clerk’s office with the impression thatthey couldn’t vote in their own ward.

“My tongue was bleeding I bit it so hard. The word ‘frustrating’keeps coming up but frustrating doesn’t even come close, so theword ‘disenfranchised’ keeps coming to mind over and over again,”he said. “I never truly understood that word until yesterday.”

Early in the day Tuesday at Ward Six, a poll worker was unableto explain to a voter why incumbent Alderman David Phillips’ namewas not listed on the Democratic primary ballot.

The reason is that Phillips is running as an Independent and isnot affiliated with a party. His name will not appear until thegeneral election ballot in June.

Regarding the voter location issues, Watkins said her officewill work with Jinks’ office to try to update the voter rolls assoon as affidavit ballots are counted.

“We’re going to work hard with them and anyone that had to voteaffidavit,” she said. “They’ll bring us those envelopes and geteveryone where they should be. We’ll go back and make sureeverybody’s in the right place.”