Officials: Absentee voting should be ‘transparent’

Published 3:00 am Thursday, August 11, 2016

Voter fraud exists and it can happen anywhere, as evidenced by the recent conviction of a Dothan woman on 24 counts of absentee ballot fraud during the 2013 Dothan municipal election.

The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals upheld the conviction in a ruling on Friday.

The jury found Olivia Reynolds guilty of fraudulently submitting 24 absentee ballots for incumbent Dothan City Commission candidate Amos Newsome in 2013. Newsome only won the race by 14 votes. Lamesa Danzey defeated Newsome by 100 votes at the polls, but Newsome received 119 absentee votes to Danzey’s  five.

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Three others involved in the Newsome campaign were also charged with fraud.

According to a 2006 study by the U.S. Election Assistance Committee, experts largely agreed that “absentee balloting is subject to the greatest proportion of fraudulent acts.”

Absentee voting was a major factor in the 2012 Troy City Council District 5 race between Dejerilyn King Henderson and Wanda Moultry with 236 total absentee ballots cast. The ballots accounted for more than 42 percent of votes cast in the race.

The two candidates are squaring off again in this year’s race.

Henderson contributed that percentage to two factors: a large number of elderly residents who cannot get to polls and general confusion about the absentee voting process.

“I think that too many people think that absentee voting is just an easy way of obtaining a certain number of votes, when it’s actually for people who aren’t able to make it to the polls to vote,” Henderson said. “Just because a person doesn’t want to go and exercise their right to vote at a polling place is not a legitimate reason to cast an absentee ballot.”

Henderson said that she assists voters who need help during elections whether she’s a candidate or not, but wants to keep that process transparent.

“I assist voters and I’m assuming the other candidate is providing voter assistance,” Henderson said. “The way I make it transparent is if I approach a voter–what I would do is if I come to a home where I know the people are physically disabled, I ask if they think they will be able to get to the polls, and they’ll tell me yes or no. I never assist someone needing absentee voting alone. I believe in having someone with me who can witness what has actually occurred.”

Moultry said the key is to clearly communicate to residents the purpose of voting absentee and how to go about it.

“To start with, an absentee ballot should be requested by the voter, and it should be explained what happens when they vote absentee,” Moultry said. “They should be told that they have the right to vote for whoever they want to vote for and that the ballot needs to be signed by them and sealed by them in the proper envelope.”

Moultry said that clear communication is especially important if a voter requests assistance.

“If they request assistance, I tell them in no uncertain terms that they must fill out their own ballots. Once they’ve sealed everything, I’ll get them and put stamps on them and put them in the mail.”

Pike County Circuit Clerk Jamie Scarbrough explained how absentee ballot fraud could happen.

“A lot of times, nursing homes are hit and the elderly are taken advantage of,” Scarbrough said. “We get some people who have Alzheimer’s who will have ballots turned in in their name.

There are two things that really anger me – taking advantage of children and the elderly. It really angers me when elderly people call me and they don’t have a clue about why I mailed them a ballot.”

According to Scarbrough, in one recent election 300 absentee ballots were never returned, about half of those that applied.

“That sends up red flags,” Scarbrough said. “If you take the time to come in here and knowingly fill out an application, the chances are that you’re going to send in that ballot.”

There are certain actions that residents can take to stop voter fraud, Scarbrough said.

“Watch out for your neighbors,” Scarbrough said. “If you see candidates or groups going door-to-door soliciting absentee votes, don’t let your neighbors get taken advantage of.

If you go to the polls, and they say you’ve already voted by absentee or applied for an absentee ballot and you haven’t, that’s obviously a red flag.“

Voting fraud is a Class C felony punishable by one to 10 years in prison, and everyone involved could be charged.

To report suspicious behavior, call the voter fraud hotline at 1-800-274-8683, go to, or call your local District Attorney’s office.

“We want everyone to vote that’s capable and qualified to vote,” Scarbrough said. “We want the election process to be as transparent as possible.”