Sunday, December 03, 2023

Election concerns still exist, but county OK with process

The Western News | November 17, 2023 7:00 AM

The general election on Tuesday, Nov. 7 and the days leading up to it had its share of bumpy moments, but Lincoln County officials believe overall that it went well.

For county Election Administrator Melanie Howell and her assistant, Sierra Gustin, it was their first time running an election.

“For both of us, it was our first time doing an electio, so, overall, I think it went well,” Howell said. “We found areas to improve on and we will. We know 2024 will be a lot different and this was a good trial run.

“There wasn’t anything super out of control and we had great support from the local community and our election judges were amazing.”

The department did have some issues that needed correction late in the process after a mistake was discovered on nearly 400 absentee ballots sent to voters in Eureka. The first ballots indicated voters needed to select one candidate for Eureka City Council. But there are two open seats. Howell confirmed to the Tobacco Valley News the mistake happened within the elections department during the proofing process. She said her department received the correct information from Eureka and the printer was not responsible for the error. New ballots were subsequently printed and mailed.

One Lincoln County voter, Corrine Canavan, who resides in Rexford, told The Western News that her husband received two ballots. She said one included a choice for mayor, the marijuana tax and the school bond while another ballot included the marijuana tax and school bond.

But Howell said it was her understanding that one envelope had two instruction sheets inside it, not ballots.

Canavan also said a ballot she received in the mail had the opportunity to vote for the marijuana tax and school bond, but not the mayor.

“It’s very disappointing for our county with all the distrust going on,” Canavan said. “You would’ve thought they’d do everything possible to make sure there wouldn’t be any problems. I mean, does anyone check before the ballots are sent out?”

District 3 County Commissioner Josh Letcher, who represents the northern part of the county, said he volunteered to run the computer at the High Road Youth Center polling place.

“I did the checking to see if ballots were sent, voters were registered and other things,” Letcher said. “I had one lady who said she never received a ballot for the school bond, but when I checked, she had received the ballot and returned it.

“We also heard a lot of complaints that voters never received ballots for the Eureka School bond. But a lot of them were not in the district and weren’t eligible to vote. They thought that because their kids went to school they’d get to vote.”

Howell said voters in the Eureka were eligible to vote on the school bond depending on which precinct they lived.

“For example, in Fortine, only two of their five precincts were eligible to vote,” she said.

Letcher also said because the school chose to do the bond election by mail-in ballot only, there were a lot of complaints.

“People were not happy because of that,” he said.

The $17 million bond failed by 383 votes.

Eureka School Superintendent Joel Graves said in a phone interview with The Western News on Tuesday that the school board will make a decision at its next meeting on Dec. 11 on whether pursue another bond in the spring.

“My hunch is that we will try again,” Graves said. “Also, we’ll probably do an in-person ballot the next time.”

Letcher said he heard that many voters weren’t happy the bond issue was only by mail.

Graves also addressed rumors that the school may pursue legal action because of any perceived issues with ballots.

“I know some people didn’t get ballots, but they were address changes that weren’t made,” Graves said. “But 94% were returned, which is amazing number. I guess it’s my job to find more votes.”

He also said he believed the school district would seek $17 million.

“Our proposal was already bar bones and we know the costs typically don’t go down,” Graves said.

Howell said she encourages county residents to make sure their mailing address is current and their voter registration is up to date.

“We heard from a lot of people who asked if we were linked with the U.S. Post Office when it comes to address changes,” Howell said. “But we are not. When people move, they need to let us know of their new address. We also heard about people getting rid of their Post Office boxes because the rates went up, so that’s another instance of making sure we have the correct address.”

County Clerk and Recorder Corrina Brown said at the Nov. 8 commission meeting that a prior concern brought by a county resident over how ballots were transported from the post office to the Election Department in the Annex building led to a change.

“Following last week’s meeting (on Nov. 1), we decided to implement enhanced security for transporting the ballots from the post office,” Brown said. “We began placing the mail bins in a tagged and locked suitcase to move them.”

The concern over transport was brought up by D.C. Orr at the Nov. 1 meeting. He said he was in the Annex building when he saw a man carrying an open-top tote container with ballots.