District 89 ballot issues raised in Dale County

Published 3:00 am Friday, November 14, 2014

More than 200 voters in Dale County appear to have been issued the wrong ballot in the District 89 state representative race, prompting one candidate to consider a possible contest.

“It’s a major problem for us,” said Jessie McDaniel, a representative of the Joel Lee Williams campaign. “This could change the results of the election.”

Williams challenged incumbent Rep. Alan Boothe for the District 89 seat in the Nov. 4 general election. After Thursday’s count of provisional ballots, Boothe led Williams 5,520 to 5,436 and was again declared the winner.

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“I am aware of media reports regarding an issue at one polling location in Dale County,” said Lance Hyche, campaign manager for Boothe. “We do not believe that issue will change the outcome of the election, and Rep. Boothe looks forward to serving the people of Dale and Pike counties.”

However, officials say more than 200 voters in the Level Plains precinct in Dale County who should have voted in the District 89 race appear to have been issued the wrong ballots.

“It’s come to my attention that there were no votes cast for Mr. Williams or for Mr. Boothe in this precinct,” said Sharon Michalic, probate judge in Dale County. Michalic said Williams was in her office early Thursday and together they met with the sheriff and several deputies, who have possession of the ballots, to review the issue.

“Many of our precincts are split precincts,” she said. “All of the Level Plains voters are not in District 89, and it appears some of the voters that should have had a ballot that allowed them to vote for Mr. Boothe or Mr. Williams did not get those ballots.”

Michalic did not provide an estimate of the affected voters, but McDaniel said the voter rolls showed more than 220 voters who should have received a District 89 ballot.

“It has now been confirmed that hundreds of Dale County voters at the Level Plains Precinct were not allowed to vote for the State House district in which they reside,” Williams said in a statement on Thursday. “This is extremely unfortunate given the amount of time I spent getting to know the voters in that community and asking them for their support. There is no doubt in my mind these errors were unintentional because I have confidence in Probate Judge Sharon Michalic and Sheriff Wally Olsen. Over the coming days, I will prayerfully consider my options and make the decision I believe is in the best interest of my district.”

Boothe won Dale County, garnering 1,303 votes to Williams’ 570. Williams won Pike County, 4,866 to 4,217. Both Michalic and Pike County Probate Judge Wes Allen are set to certify their election results today.

“I’ve been in contact with the Secretary of State’s office, and I’m following the procedure they outlined,” Michalic said. “We are going to certify our (county-wide) election results today, based on the results we have at this time.”

Those results are then given to the state, which will provide final certification on Nov. 24. Candidates have 20 calendar days after certification in which to file a contest of the election. Deputy Secretary of State Emily Marsal said state code outlines the procedures to follow.

“We don’t have any election results in our office right now, but we have had a conversation with the probate judge (in Dale County) and she has informed us of possible mishandling of the ballots,” Marsal said. “If a contest of the election were to be filed, it would be filed with the clerk of the circuit court (in either Dale or Pike counties) and then there is a procedure in place for what happens after that.”

That procedure includes the appointment of someone to take testimony and gather facts in the case and, ultimately, could direct the contest to the state House of Representatives for a decision of what to do. Meanwhile, Marsal said, an Attorney General’s opinion had been issued in a previous case ruling that whomever is declared winner at the time the votes are counted can be sworn into office and remain in office until any contest is resolved.