With less than a week until the Aug. 27 municipal elections, the absentee ballots are rolling in, already eclipsing past totals for a local race.
Mobile City Clerk Lisa Lambert reported more than 2,500 absentee ballots had been filed as of Aug. 15. That’s quite a bit more than the 2005 election, which was the last time the city had a contested mayor’s race.
“In 2005, I think there were bout 900 absentee ballots in the general and run off election (between Mayor Sam Jones and John Peavy) combined,” Lambert said.
Lambert said a lot of college students have been switching their registration back to Mobile from places like Tuscaloosa and Birmingham to vote in this election or registering to vote for the first time.
There’s another familiar name who cast his absentee ballot — former District 2 City Councilman Jermaine Burrell, and that has raised a bit of controversy. Burrell posted a photo of his absentee ballot on Facebook, in which he tagged Jones, City Councilmen Fred Richardson and CJ Small, city spokeswoman Barbara Drummond and Chief of Staff Al Stokes.
In the post, Burrell states, “I proudly cast my vote from Beantown USA via absentee ballot for Proven Leadership – Mobile Mayor Sam Jones and a Compassionate Leader for District 3 who has been doing an outstanding job since taking office Councilman CJ Small to continue the growth and progress of our City over the next 4 years!”
Burrell left his council seat Nov. 20, 2012, but announced his resignation on Oct. 23, 2012. The former councilman left to take a job in Boston. When asked about the validity of Burrell’s absentee ballot, Lambert said Burrell still has a house here and comes back frequently. However, state law regulates that voter registration should be where a person primarily lives.
Asked about where he lives these days Burrell said via Facebook, “My primary residence is Mobile. I still live and have my home there.”
However, Burrell told several media outlets he was moving to Boston when he resigned. Also in an April 19 article by the Press-Register/al.com regarding the Boston bombings and city lockdown, Burrell said, “I’m at my office now and wrapping up here and heading back home so I don’t get stuck.”
Pat Terrell, Mobile County Board of Registrars chairwoman, was asked about the legality of the situation and responded, “This has already been forwarded to the Secretary of State’s office.”
While Burrell’s is just one vote, his use of the absentee has brought back up an ongoing debate between the Mobile County Probate Court and the county’s Board of Registrars and state Secretary of State’s Office. The issue harkens back to March 2012 in which a mailing error led to 20,000 courtesy postcards being sent to people who have changed districts or live outside Mobile County or even the state.
Probate Court Judge Don Davis has argued this is concerning because the postcards can be used as voter identification, leading to the possibility people can vote in the wrong precinct or even cast votes from outside the county or state.
Davis filed a motion for a declaratory judgment in Montgomery that would bar voters from casting ballots in the wrong precincts.
An Attorney General’s opinion issued in July sided with former Secretary of State Beth Chapman’s point of view that it is more important the vote count than for it to have been in the proper precinct. In September 2012, a Montgomery County Circuit Court also sided with the Secretary of State’s office against Davis. He has appealed the ruling to the state Supreme Court. No hearing has been set for the matter.
Attorney Jason Hackmeir, who represents Davis’s arguments regarding voting, said a situation like Burrell’s is difficult to catch if the person is actually living somewhere else.
“A person can stay on the voter registration rolls indefinitely if they live out of state and do not drop off the rolls,” he said. If a person does not vote in two consecutive federal elections, then that voter registration may be canceled.
“It is not typical for people to question a voter’s residency. You usually see that with candidates. As long as that person is registered to vote, there is not much that can be done to stop them from voting even if it is in the wrong location.”
Tyrell said for people who move to another state, it is their responsibility to move their voter registration.
“It is up to the voter to update their records where they are in New York, Boston, Atlanta or wherever,” she said. “It is a legal document the voter signs. The Board of Registrars cannot change it for someone.”
There is some more confusion around the Aug. 27 municipal election. Polling places are not always the same for state and county elections within the city. To find the correct precinct, go to www.cityofmobile.org/election/votingcenters.php and enter the registered voter’s address.