Absentee ballots in Hale County questioned

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 28, 2004

NEWBERN – Henry Lee Chambers has been voting since 1965, “when voting rights came around.”

“Close to 80 years old,” Chambers said he’d seen a lot of changes come about in Hale County and in Alabama since he began voting in his early 40s, but wasn’t prepared for what he found when his absentee ballot was delivered to his home.

The ballot, he said, was pre-marked – meaning the candidates had already been voted on the ballot.

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Both he and his wife had planned to vote absentee ballots in next Tuesday’s primary election.

“The poll watchers came by to pick up the absentee ballots and I asked them to let me see my ballot.,” he said. “They mailed out the absentee ballots but they were already marked. All four of the candidates were already marked. I only marked one for the (Democratic Party) delegate.”

The next day, Chambers went to see Hale County Circuit Clerk Gay Nell Tinker, who doubles as the county’s absentee election manager, a relatively common practice for circuit clerks in the Black Belt.

Tinker said she had discussed the issue with Chambers and was in the process of spoiling his absentee ballot, clearing the way for him to cast his votes at his polling place.

“I absolutely assure you that the integrity of a person’s right to vote and the right to secrecy have not been violated from this office. There are procedures when persons feel they have not been given the opportunity to cast their vote freely,” he said.

“I expressed this with Mr. Chambers and I am in the process of doing this. My office is doing everything in its power to ensure that Mr. Chambers does cast his vote for the person of his choice on June 1,” she said.

Chambers also contacted the Fourth Circuit District Attorney Ed Greene’s office, specifically Assistant District Attorney Vangie Rhodes, who handles cases in Hale County.

“Mr. Chambers got in touch with our assistant DA, found out the nature of his complaint, and I understand it is being handled by the absentee manager,” Greene said.

Greene’s name appears on the Hale County ballot as he is running for reelection.

Another candidate whose name is on the ballot is Congressman Artur Davis, who is facing Albert Turner Jr. in the primary.

“We have received reports from several sources that absentee ballots have been mailed out in Hale County with Albert Turner’s name already marked on them,” said Davis spokesman Corey Ealons “If any individuals are engaging in this kind of activity, they should be aware that they are violating federal and state laws and that they’re misguided efforts could result in their prosecution. We are certain that no official in Hale County would ever engage in such conduct.”

Although the process is underway to allow Chambers to recast his vote in the primary, he said the issue was about doing the right thing.

“I’m for doing the right thing an serving the Lord. I believe in being right – there’s nobody perfect but we can do the best we can, we can do right,” he said.

“We need to do something (about pre-marked ballots). That’s bad leadership,” Chambers said. “We don’t need bad leadership in this country – there’s enough of it already.”

Preventing voting fraud is one of Attorney General Troy King’s top priorities.

He’s established a toll-free hotline to assist citizens and elections officials with any allegations of wrongdoing or legal inquiries.

King will assign an attorney specializing in election law to a hotline during election week, from Tuesday, June 1, through Thursday, June 3. Citizens may call the Attorney General’s Office with questions about election law and information about alleged violations and voter fraud at 1-800-831-8814. There is no charge for calls to this number.

The Office of Attorney General is prepared to respond to any legal questions and complaints about voting practices in Alabama, providing a base of information and reassuring citizens that legitimate reports of election fraud will be investigated.

“Government has no greater responsibility than to ensure that our elections are honest and fair, and this toll free hot line will help further that effort,” King said.

“Honest government begins with honest elections and I want to ensure that this election is conducted honestly and fairly for all voters. The integrity of the election process demands accountability to the people and fidelity to the law,” he said. “If it is brought to my attention that improprieties have occurred, I pledge that we will review them and take appropriate action, wherever it may lead. Make no mistake, this office will investigate and prosecute any illegal acts that would interfere with or impugn the election process.”