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Investigation

By   /   December 2, 2011  /   Comments Off

The Secretary of State’s office is looking into the Ward II election.  Here’s a glimpse at some of what they might find.

 

Written by Tom Knighton

 

Last week, Melissa Strother handed reporters a 2,400 word report outlining “irregularities” in the election process.  Among those were many aimed squarely at the elections office. One, however, wasn’t. That was the complaint about the sheer numbers of absentee ballots filed in favor of Ivey Hines in the Ward II election, primarily from Jackson Heights. Now, the Secretary of State’s office is investigating these “irregularities”. Though they refuse to comment on particulars in their investigation, sources indicate that contact has been made with at least one of the principle parties in the Ward II debacle.

However, is there really anything for the investigators to find?

The Journal looked at the percentages last week and found that Jackson Heights accumulated a significantly higher percentage than the other three precincts, in fact about twice the percentage as the other three’s average.  However, upon further digging, the disparity in numbers becomes even more obvious.

Based on absentee ballots alone, Ivey Hines garnered 67.63 percent of those votes.  Strother? Just 31.4 percent, despite taking 47.46 percent of the vote after election supervisor threw out all votes for former Ward II candidate Cheryl Calhoun. Meanwhile, Hines only got 51.45 percent after Calhoun’s votes were removed.  This looks somewhat out of balance, but is it unusual?

Judging the other races that took place on November 8, the disparity becomes clearer. For example, the more high-profile mayor’s race featured three candidates. In that race, the top absentee vote getter was Dorothy Hubbard at 39.31 percent.  She’s followed by B.J. Fletcher at 37.08 percent and John White at 23.52 percent.  In the overall vote, Fletcher was the leader with 39.37 percent (a difference of only .29 percent), followed by Hubbard with 36.35 percent( -2.96 percent), and John White with 24.14 percent ( a difference of only .62 percent).

Each candidate was within three percentage points from their total of absentee votes when compared to the total votes gathered. However, a mayor’s race involved the entire city, so perhaps a better comparison can be made looking at city commission races.  There are two that can serve as examples.

First, Ward IV featured two candidates.  Roger Marietta won handily, defeating first time candidate Jason McCoy.  Marietta took 80.72 percent (84.07 percent absentee) to McCoy’s 18.97 percent (15.75 percent absentee).  The difference between percentages of votes case is greater than in the mayor’s race, but is still only 3.35 percent difference.

Ward VI may give an even clearer picture.  After all, it also boasted three candidates.  Here, the disparity is a bit greater.  After all, Commissioner Tommie Postell only got 47.01 percent of the vote overall, but received 53.72 percent absentee.  A 6.71 percent difference is greater than the normal difference.  Number two finisher Victor Edwards garnered 29.43 percent overall, but only got 26.54 percent absentee. His difference is only 2.89 percent.  Former school teacher Kowana McKinney finished with 23.29 percent overall, but only got 19.42 percent absentee; a 3.87 percent difference.

Among the 8 candidates in other races, the average difference is a mere 2.99 percent.  However, Ivey Hines boasts a difference of 16.18 percent.

To further muddy up the waters, there is the fact that absentee ballots can be divided up into two categories.  One is called “absentee in person”, which is where a voter files their absentee ballot in person with the elections office.  The other is “absentee by mail”, in which the ballot is mailed in.  Voters turning in absentee ballots in person have their identifications checked to insure they are who they claim to be.  Voters mailing their ballots in have their signatures checked by election office staff.

In all races, including the two questions Albany voters got to cast ballots on, the number of voters turning in absentee ballots in person outnumbered mail-in votes by pretty strong margins except in one race.  Ward II candidate Ivey Hines received 75 total absentee by mail votes, compared to 65 absentee in person.  Melissa Strother? She received 54 absentee in person votes, compared to just 11 by mail. In Jackson Heights alone, Hines received 62 absentee by mail votes, and 40 absentee in person.  In fact, of the 140 absentee votes Hines received in the Ward II election, 102 did indeed come out of Jackson Heights Elementary School precinct.

While the numbers in question do not necessarily implicate anyone in any wrongdoing, Hines in particular, they do hold up to Strother’s allegations.

Meanwhile, Strother seems to be garnering a great deal of community support.  At the elections board meeting, held November 16, multiple voters from Ward II stepped in front of the board to let their displeasure be known.  Johnny Williams said, “I have great concerns” regarding the 247 votes being thrown out. “In America, you threw them away.”

Several more claimed that they saw no signs at their voting precinct.  One was Anne Mitchell, who says she voted at Palmyra Road Methodist Church. “There was not a sign prominently displayed that Cheryl Calhoun was removed from the ballot,” she said.  Strother’s report claims as much.

Another Ward II resident, William Livingston, had questions about those who voted early while Calhoun was still a valid candidate. “Were people allowed to revote?”

In all cases, the board referred to potential pending legal action, saying all of the questions asked would be answered in court.  County attorney Spencer Lee outlined the process for legal action, saying that an administrative judge would appoint a judge from outside of this circuit to hear the case.

Strother asked if the board had the authority to handle this and were just choosing to hand this off to the courts, something she said would be fine with her but wished for them to just put it in the record.  Lee refused to give a straight yes or no answer, and then refused Strother’s request to find out and get back with her.

Many in the community are upset by the events in Ward II, even without potential irregularities.  Their sentiments were best summed up by a comment Mitchell made to the board when she said, “Something’s going on.”  Several members of the community have made similar statements around town as well.  The elections board has apparently decided that the next “something” to go on will require additional expenditure of taxpayer’s money in the form of legal costs.

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