Less than an hour into the Mobile municipal election, people were already complaining of issues at the polls — the most common of those being that when the voter went to the poll, he or she was marked as already voted by absentee ballot.
Robert Martin said when he went to vote at The Mug Café, which is in District 4 and has 2,902 active voters, he was told his name was already marked off.
“Needless to say I started raising Hell, and eventually was told that they had made a mistake, and would check someone else’s name off also named Martin so I can vote,” he told Lagniappe. “I hope my vote ends up counting since someone used my name. In this election, every vote counts.”
Dabney Foshee relayed a similar experience when she tried to vote at E.R. Dickson Elementary School this morning. In her case, Foshee said she had signed as a witness for her son who did vote by absentee ballot, but somehow her name was crossed off as having voted as well. She said she was the fifth one at that polling place to have the problem early this morning.
And Sharon Heggeman says she was also told she’d already voted when she went to E.R. Dickson around 9 a.m. Her husband and daughter both had voted absentee. She ended up filing a provisional ballot.
“I’m a little angry,” she said. “I thought this election would be well organized. It seems remarkable to me this is happening.”
The people who contacted Lagniappe had one thing in common — a family member had voted absentee.
City Clerk Lisa Lambert said she knows of one incident in which a father’s name was removed from the list when his son voted absentee.
“We were able to verify his son voted, but in marking off the people who voted absentee, the father’s name was inadvertently marked off,” Lambert said. “We were able to correct the issue and both were able to vote.”
Lambert said if an issue like that arises, the voter should ask for the inspector at the voting center. The inspector should contact the city clerk’s office and determine the cause of the issue.
If all else fails, the voter is advised by Lambert to vote via provisional ballot.
The provisional ballots are given to the Mobile County Board of Registrars, who determines if the information is accurate, she said. If that information is accurate, then the vote will be counted.
The City Clerk’s office was responsible for identifying the absentee voters in this election and marking them appropriately before the rolls were sent to the individual precincts Tuesday morning. As of Tuesday afternoon Lagniappe had contacted five individuals who had been told they already voted absentee. It’s not certain if there are more.
The absentee ballots in this election have become a flashpoint over the past few days after it came to light Friday that the U.S. Postal Inspector was looking into possible mail fraud in regard to the way the ballots were being sent in. The inspector, Tony Robinson, told FOX10, “We do have an active investigation in the Mobile area and inspectors there will be seeing that through toward prosecution.”
Despite numerous calls to the inspector’s office and attempts to contact the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Lagniappe has not been able to get anyone to respond to questions about the investigation. However, those familiar with the inner workings of the downtown post office on St. Joseph Street said the issue was two individuals, a man and woman wearing Sam Jones campaign shirts, who delivered large numbers of absentee ballots to the post office — sometimes in tubs — and many of them had what appeared to be the same handwriting on the outside.
While the similarity in handwriting may have attracted the postal inspector’s attention, it does not appear having the same person sign and mail out the ballots would be a problem. Although it does raise the question of whether individuals are paying the postage or if it is being paid by a campaign.
The woman in question was also identified as someone who brought in a large number of absentee ballots before April’s runoff race for the House District 97 seat. In that situation, 160 absentees were filed, 153 of which ended up being for eventual winner Adline Clarke. She received 97 percent of the absentees.
Lagniappe’s source said postal employees believe the woman has been working to get absentee ballots filled out by senior citizens in area nursing homes. She has not been identified.
In this election there were more than 3,000 abentees filed, a number that greatly exceeds the norm. Combined with Friday’s revelations, a great deal of tension surrounded the start of counting the ballots Tuesday shortly after noon. Poll watchers were eager to get up close and look at the unopened envelops containing the ballots, but were told they’d have to wait behind a long table in pre-Council Chambers until further along in the process.
Elections officials went through the painstaking process of first reading each name on each envelope prior to opening them to verify proper ID and witnessing. The ballots themselves would only be opened after that and not be subject to viewing by anyone other than elections officials.
As far as the investigation by the U.S. Postal, Lambert said she has no information on the matter.
She did confirm that no absentee ballot is issued unless there is an application on file.
“There shouldn’t be any more ballots than applications,” Lambert said. “There could be more applications than ballots if someone does not send them in, but there should never be more ballots than applications.”
Updated at 5:02 p.m. to clarify information about the legality of handwriting on the envelopes.