Reports have been made following the Aug. 28 Pinson Municipal Elections that many people who showed up at the polls to vote were denied the right to vote, even through provisional ballots.
“For some reason, it appears that there was poll worker error concerning some provisional ballots, with not handing out provisional ballots on election day in Pinson,” Jefferson County Board of Registrars Chairman Barry Stephenson said. “No one should have been denied a provisional ballot. That’s the reason that provisional ballots were implemented, so that you don’t disenfranchise someone on election day. We’ve only got one election day.”
Poll Watcher Cara McAnnally said that she saw many people turned away at the polls that day.
“Because this issue has the potential of becoming a legal or ethical violation, I have been advised not to speak with the media at this time,” she said. “What I can say is…I did see a lot of people that were turned away.”
Among those denied provisional ballots was a disabled Vietnam War veteran who was confirmed to be a Pinson resident.
Verben “Benny” Lindley came out to Pinson United Methodist Church on Tuesday, Aug. 28, with his driver’s license, military ID, and recent utility bills as evidence that he lived within city limits.
He said that he moved to Pinson about a year ago and had not yet updated his current address with the Board of Registrars. When he went to vote, he was told his name was not on the registry.
“I was not listed on the book,” he said. “It was probably because I hadn’t updated it on the Board of Registrars. Not being on the book is something that happens all the time.”
Lindley said that the poll worker told him that she could not let him vote. He then asked for a provisional ballot.
“She said, ‘I can’t give you a provisional ballot…we don’t have any at this time,’” Lindley said
. The poll worker then instructed him to see the Chief Inspector.
He said that he was again told by the Chief Inspector that he could not vote because his name was not on the list. Once more, he demanded a provisional ballot.
“She said, ‘You can’t have one,’” he said. “I said, ‘Why?’ She said, ‘If you want a provisional ballot, you have to go to the City Hall in Pinson and pick them up.’ I said, ‘That doesn’t sound right.’ She said, ‘That’s where you need to go.’”
Multiple attempts to contact the poll’s Chief Inspector for a statement were unsuccessful.
Lindley went to Pinson City Hall, where he spoke to City Clerk Marie Turner. Turner confirmed that Lindley did live in Pinson, but was not on the register.
“He did come in,” she said. “He is in the city limits, but he’s not on our voters’ list because he never updated his voter registration.”
Turner said that she was told by the Board of Registrars that Lindley could vote provisionally, but his vote would not count because he didn’t do what he was supposed to do beforehand.
“I don’t know why he didn’t vote provisionally,” she said. “I’m not in charge up there. We told him he was in the city limits, I told him what the Board of Registrars said, that he needed to update his card.”
Lindley said he was told that he would have to update his voter registration with the Board of Registrars before he would be allowed to vote.
“So in other words, you’re not going to give me anything at all today to let me vote,” Lindley said he asked Turner. “She said, ‘That’s right.’”
Lindley is a decorated war vet, having received two bronze stars and a Purple Heart.
“I’m a totally disabled Vietnam veteran,” he said. “I fought for my country. To be denied my right to vote is ridiculous. Three people denied me the right in front of everybody. It’s embarrassing.”
Turner said that she is not in charge of provisional ballots and was not present at the polling place on election day. The Chief Inspector is in charge or provisional ballots, she said.
“I didn’t deny him anything,” she said. “I’m not in charge of giving out provisional ballots. That’s the Chief Inspector. I don’t know what the situation was. I don’t know what they were told.”
Lindley said that he has considered contacting the Attorney General’s office, the Board of Registrars or the Jefferson County Attorney about the situation.
“I’m going to go further with it,” he said. “I’m not going to drop the ball on it. This needs to be straightened out. We’ve got a major election coming up in November. Everybody needs to vote.”
Torrence Sims, an associate pastor at Solid Rock Church in Pinson, and his wife Paula were also told that they could not vote and were not offered provisional ballots.
“When me and my wife, Paula, went to vote, we went in there and showed our ID as usual and they said we weren’t on the register,” Sims said. “They couldn’t find our names. When they looked on the inactive roster, they didn’t find it on that. They told us that we needed to go to City Hall and find out what was going on.”
He said that they went to City Hall and explained their situation to a lady there, who’s name he did not know.
“She pulled our information up and said that we needed to fill out a form saying that we wanted to be annexed in to the city of Pinson,” Sims said. “We were under the impression that we were already in Pinson in our community.”
The Sims’ have lived in the Astro World subdivision in Pinson for 12 years.
“Our neighbors were annexed in so we figured we were, too,” he said. “It was a shock to us. We know our address is part of Pinson, but she said we had to fill out a form saying we wanted to be part of the incorporation of the city.”
The Sims’ were given an annexation form, but told they would not be able to vote that day.
“We just took the form and filled it out,” Sims said. “That’s all we knew to do. We thought it was a ‘no’ and that was that. This was the first time we’d ever seen anything like this.”
Sims said that he did not know to ask for a provisional ballot.
“Nothing like that was even offered,” he said.
Stephenson, with the Board of Registrars, said that it is the poll worker’s responsibility to offer provisional ballots.
“That’s poll worker error,” he said. “We had five or six or so provisional ballots in Pinson concerning whether their property had been properly annexed in. It’s just a matter of getting that information from the city of Pinson. I think most of those wound up counting. But no one should have been denied a provisional ballot.”
At a special-called Pinson City Council meeting held Tuesday to canvas the votes, Pinson Mayor Hoyt Sanders gave his definition of what provisional ballots are for.
“Provisional ballots are for someone who was registered to vote on a parcel of land within the city limit that was for some reason not on the list,” Sanders said. “We had some people, of course, show up that were not in the limit and some people, I understand, came to vote who were not properly registered.”
Stephenson said, however, that provisional ballots were for anyone who was not on the poll register and wanted to vote.
“We told the clerks, and it’s covered in their election manual, how to handle a provisional ballot,” he said. “They’re set up so that no one is disenfranchised on election day. They are allowed to cast a ballot. Their vote still may not count, but there’s only one election day. So let them cast a provisional ballot. We’ll do the research and properly determine whether to count the vote or not.”