Candidates and voters wait as provisional ballots are counted at the Etowah County Courthouse on Tuesday, May 31. Katie Bohannon/Messenger.
By Katie Bohannon, News Editors
Both local Republican and Democratic parties certified May 24 primary results on Tuesday, May 31 – sparking a surge of candidates planning to contest the election.
The parties certified the results after provisional ballots were counted, which did not alter the numbers significantly for any races impacted by the redistricting error, resulting in voters throughout Etowah County receiving incorrect ballots for their respective areas. Leading up to the certification, candidates weighed in on the situation, with several supporting a new election (coinciding with the June 21 runoff) as the best course of action moving forward.
Those planning to contest the election campaigned in races influenced by the error. Alabama House of Representatives District 28 candidate and incumbent Gil Isbell, Alabama House of Representatives District 29 candidate Jamie Grant, Etowah County Commission District 4 candidate Jeff Overstreet and Etowah County Commission District 5 candidate Carolyn Parker all plan to contest.
According to Etowah County Republican Party Election Chair Misty Ledbetter, the state party will certify the results Wednesday, June 1 at noon. Candidates then file contests with the chair of the county or state parties. Etowah County Republican Party candidate contests for seats like the county commission have until 5 p.m. on June 1 to challenge. Those qualified through the state party have 24 hours to file a contest (with the state), which is a Thursday, June 2 deadline.
The state party steering the committee hears the contests and issues a decision. The state party then submits names of the nominees for the party to the Secretary of State. Under Alabama Code 17-13-72, the party has the power in a contest to declare who was legally nominated at the primary for an office.
Etowah County Democratic Party Chair Charles Abney explained candidates such as Parker seeking to contest have a deadline of 2 p.m. on June 1. Following the contest, party leadership has five days to determine a decision. This process coincides with an impending June 7 date, which is the deadline to send updated runoff ballots to the printer.
Parker shared that voting inaccuracies – from machine complications to ballot mix-ups – were too substantial to ignore, and ultimately influenced her plans to contest.
“Win or lose, I want to play a part in ensuring people have the right to a fair election process in Etowah County,” said Parker. “That is important to me. At the end of the day, right is always right and wrong is wrong. [When you have almost (or) all candidates contesting] that’s more about the integrity of the election process rather than people winning or losing.”
While Isbell initially contemplated contesting the election, he shared that continual problems surfacing – before and after results were tallied – and conversations with concerned citizens sealed his decision. To avoid further confusion in the future, he suggested developing and providing voters with greater detailed maps that are easily accessible, to eliminate any uncertainty as to what addresses fall within each district. Isbell feels ensuring maps are updated and voters remain aware of these updates is an essential element in correcting the problem.
Isbell understands candidates have differing opinions, but he and Grant consider the problem larger than who wins or loses. “If the shoe was on the other foot” both candidates would expect their opponents to respond in a similar fashion. They believe correcting the issue for voters and allowing them the opportunity to support who and what they determine is best for their districts is what matters most.
“No matter what happens, we need to fix the problem so that the error never happens again,” said Isbell.
But candidates alone are not the only ones questioning how the error impacted the results, or those supporting a new election. District 29 resident Jeff Chamblee remains invested as information unfolds. He believes the issue proves significant enough to influence election outcomes, attending the provisional ballot counting on May 21. Chamblee – who voted at Mountainboro Volunteer Fire Department – said he wanted to support Grant in the election, only to discover Grant’s name did not appear on the ballot. When he asked election officials about the discrepancy, they responded that several voters had the same question.
“I think they should let us vote again,” said Chamblee, who felt that polling location would have made a difference in the results.
Grant does not believe anything nefarious occurred with the election – he perceives the error as a human mistake with the potential for correction. As more incidents mirroring Chamblee’s experience arose – in both Grant’s district and others – he feels as though people throughout Etowah County were unable to accurately make their voices heard. While everyone was given the opportunity to vote, everyone was not given the chance to vote according to their wishes.
Grant views the situation as a discrepancy that the Republican Party should correct. His attorney, Mike Haney, discussed provisions that would grant the party the freedom to not certify the results and call for a new election. Haney agrees with Grant in noting that a fair resolution to the issue resides with simply adding names to the June runoff ballot, something that Haney stated would cost the county no extra money.
“If the Republican party is the party of integrity, here’s a chance to prove it,” said Grant, who reflected on recent leaders who questioned the 2020 presidential election results, sharing that local leadership has the opportunity to correct a mistake that directly influences their communities. “This is a chance for local government to show the people they can trust local politics and let them vote for whoever they want in their districts. It starts here. If we can’t fix things at a local level, how on earth are we going to fix things at a national level?”
Grant – along with Isbell – does not plan to challenge the issue in court.
“I want our leadership and executive members to see the problem and fix it,” said Grant. “I don’t want the court to fix this or somebody else to make decisions. If the party can’t correct itself, then who are we?”
According to Tuesday’s certified results, Mack Butler defeated Isbell in the House District 28 race. He said he was one of the first to discover the error, when his sister attempted to vote and could not find his name on an absentee ballot. Butler shared he “did not take no for an answer,” in attempting to resolve the issue and on election day, he too received calls from voters who planned to vote for him but could not due to the ballots received. While Butler always advocates for questioning government, he summarizes what occurred in Etowah County as a human error that he hopes will find closure soon. He commended the Board of Registrars for their efforts regarding the situation.
“The fact is, everyone was provided a ballot and it was up to the voters to know what districts they were in,” said Butler. “We’re trusting the process all the way through.”
Etowah County Commission District 5 incumbent (and winner according to certified results) Jeffery Washington also believes in trusting the process concerning the election. While others seek a new election, Washington does not support that avenue. He feels asking citizens to go back out and vote again is a hardship that should be evaded.
“As an elected official, if we don’t believe in the system that we’re running for, it makes it very difficult for people to trust us,” said Washington. “I think constituents spoke with their vote and asked that I represent them, and I thank them for that. Elected officials have to allow the people to have the choice and when they make their choice, let us respect their wishes.”
For the District 29 race, Grant garnered the majority of Etowah County votes, while Gidley earned Calhoun County, placing him in the lead. He addressed the voting error that he supports correcting and shared he wants the confusion absolved, but believes “the people are the winners” in speaking and supporting their respective candidate.
“That’s what it’s been all about for me since I started – serving the people,” said Gidley. “I believe everybody was given the opportunity to vote and the people have spoken.”