By Crystal McGough
After the Pinson Municipal Elections on Aug. 28, several people in Pinson reported to the Tribune that they were not given the opportunity to vote provisionally in the city’s municipal election.
Deputy Secretary of State Emily Thompson said at that time that the Secretary of State’s Office had received emails concerning the complaints.
“We did send that information to the Attorney General,” Thompson said last Friday. “We don’t really make the recommendation for an investigation. We just send it over if it is a legitimate complaint, and it was. So we sent it to the Attorney General.”
As of press time, no confirmation on an investigation has come from the Attorney General’s office.
“If (Thompson) forwarded it, then we have that information and they will look into it,” Jackie Thomas, who works in the Attorney General’s Office of Investigations, said. “We have the information, if she sent the information over. Someone will look at it.”
Pinson’s Chief Inspector at the Polls, Kathy Middleton, was out of town after the elections and was not available to be contacted at that time for comments on the complaints.
However, Middleton spoke at the Sept. 20 Pinson City Council meeting to address some of the concerns.
“I just want to say how important to me voting is,” Middleton said. “I’ve been working as a poll worker
for more than 30 years. It’s a very special and precious privilege to me that I would never deny anyone.”
Middleton said that in national elections, when a name is not found in the register books, the inspector would check a laptop to verify the voter’s information and call the Board of Registrars to see if their name is in a different polling place or if they were not a registered voter.
“In a city election, it has to be a little bit different because we can’t call the Board of Registrars,” she said. “They’re not necessarily in charge of it. In every instance that was questionable, I either called the city clerk or sent them to City Hall, because that’s where the maps are.”
In a later interview, Middleton said, “At the time, I felt like City Hall would be more able to give the information, because, like I said, they have the maps and the names of the residences, and the streets and the addresses right there at hand. The Board of Registrars did not have that. All they had was the list of voters that came out, and we had that in the books.”
Barry Stephenson, Chairman of the Board of Registrars, disagreed with Middleton’s statement about the board not having the necessary information.
“That is absolutely incorrect,” Stephenson said. “The city runs their own elections, but we have all the information. We have the voter’s list, we have the maps, we have the boundary lines. They’re as up to date as we can get them based on the city’s annexations. That’s poll worker error is all that is. All the other city’s called us to inquire about any situation that came up. They could have called us at any time during the day. The other city’s did.”
In reference to people being sent to City Hall, Stephenson said that the voters should not have had to leave the polling place on Election Day.
“They should have called us at that point,” he said. “We instructed the cities, if you have any questions, call us. Should a person have to vote a provisional ballot, they should never have to leave the precinct to go somewhere else, bottom line. You don’t want to disenfranchise anybody. Let them vote provisional at the same precinct everyone else is voting. We have a week to resolve the problem, whether their vote will count or not. But you don’t send them to another facility. That’s not what we teach. We’ve never taught that.”
Although Pinson resident and Vietnam War Veteran Verben “Benny” Lindley said that he requested a provisional ballot multiple times, Middleton said that no one who asked for a provisional ballot was denied.
“The voter in question did not ask for one,” Middleton said. “He was relatively upset because he had called somewhere…to find out what information he needed to bring with him, which was the ID. He had the proper ID with him
. I suggested, like I did to all of the voters who came in who were not on the list, that they go to City Hall and check because all the maps and everything were at City Hall. Now that’s the only conversation I had with him.”
Lindley said that he knew he had not updated his current address with the Board of Registrars when he moved to Pinson about a year ago, and that was the reason his name was not in the register book.
“Not being on the book is something that happens all the time,” Lindley said. “All you have to do is update it and I haven’t done it yet.”
Lindley also said that, knowing his name was not in the book, he requested a provisional ballot from a poll worker, the Chief Inspector and the city clerk.
“Three people denied me the right in front of everybody,” he said.
The poll worker, who wished to remain anonymous, said that she did not deny him a provisional ballot, but simply directed him to the Chief Inspector, according to policy.
City Clerk Marie Turner said that she did not deny him a ballot either.
“I didn’t deny him anything,” she said. “I’m not in charge of giving out provisional ballots. That’s the Chief Inspector.”
Middleton said that, upon returning from City Hall, Lindley did not request a provisional ballot from her.
“Not too much time went by and I saw him come in,” she said. “I looked up and saw him coming in and saw him stop. He stood there for quite a while. I don’t really know how long, I didn’t time it. I just knew he was there and looked up a little while later and he was gone. He never came back to the tables again. That’s all I know about him…but he did not request a provisional ballot. Had he requested one, he would have gotten it. We have no reason to deny anybody a provisional ballot.”
Middleton also addressed a complaint from Solid Rock Church’s associate pastor Torrence Sims. Sims said that he and his wife, who have lived in the Astro World subdivision in Pinson for 12 years, were also asked to go to City Hall, where they were told that their property had not been annexed into the city. They were then given an annexation form, Sims said.
“They were not even in the city,” Middleton said. “If their address was a part of the city of Pinson, they would have been eligible to vote and they wouldn’t have had to fill out an annexation form.”
She did say that the couple still could have voted provisionally.
“If anybody had requested a provisional ballot, they would have gotten a provisional ballot,” Middleton said. “I had no reason to tell anybody ‘no’.”
Sims said that he did not know that provisional ballots were an option.
“Nothing like that was offered,” he said. “We just took the (annexation) form and filled it out. That’s all we knew to do. We thought it was a ‘no’ and that was that.”
When asked if it was the poll worker’s responsibility to offer a provisional ballot to people who may not have known to ask for one, Board of Registrars Chairman Stephenson said, “Yes.”
“We had five or six or so provisional ballots in Pinson concerning whether their property had been properly annexed in,” he said of the Sims’ case. “It’s just a matter of getting that information from the city of Pinson. I think most of those wound up counting.”
Middleton said that she did not know she was supposed to offer provisional ballots to people who did not ask for them.
“I’ll talk to Mr. Stephenson and I’ll have to clarify that, because in all the schools I’ve ever been to, we were told that anyone, of course, could vote provisionally if they chose to, but I was not aware that we had to offer everybody a provisional ballot,” she said. “I’ll be very honest about that. I was not aware that I’m supposed to say, ‘Do you want to vote provisional?’”
Crystal can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org