Glasgow Daily Times, Glasgow, KY

Local News

June 12, 2014

Arrival of absentee ballot applications was a surprise to some

GLASGOW — More than a half dozen voters received applications for mail-in absentee ballots in the primary election who didn’t understand why they got them or didn’t understand what they were were requesting, according to testimony Thursday in Barren Circuit Court.

The trial was addressing a claim by candidate Chris Steward that 27 mail-in absentee ballots were disqualified improperly by the Barren County Board of Elections on primary election day May 20. Steward was one of five candidates in the Democratic race for judge-executive; he finished third, 16 votes behind Micheal Hale, the apparent winner of the party’s nomination.

Barren County Clerk Joanne London testified that her office took calls from some people who asked why they received an application. After being told it had been requested for them, they said they were able to go to the polls and didn’t want to vote absentee. They were advised they could simply not return the application or they could send it to the clerk’s office with a note saying it was not needed.

Barren County Attorney Jeff Sharp asked her whether those who did not return a completed application for an absentee ballot could still vote at the polls. London said they could.

Amanda Sturgeon, a deputy clerk and election coordinator, said she knew of three people – two in the same household – who called the office to find out why they got an application and then they said they didn’t need them. Each of them sent back the applications with a note that they were unnecessary.

Four others came into the office and said Steward had visited to help them register to vote. They signed a card and another sheet of paper. One woman wanted Sturgeon to read to them what was on the card and the paper, because most in the household could not read and they weren’t sure what they had signed.

When Sturgeon read the card, including a portion about convicted felons being unable to vote, the woman said she had not heard that part before, and that if she had, she would not have asked for an application. A man who was in the group said he wanted to vote for Steward, but he didn’t want to get in trouble because he was a felon and wasn’t sure whether his rights had been restored.

Sharp asked Sturgeon who requested the ballots for the people who said they didn’t know why they got an application. Sturgeon said they all came in an envelope with Steward’s return address.

Sturgeon also testified that almost all of the requests – hundreds, but she didn’t know an exact number – that came in envelopes with Steward’s return address were on identical forms. Upon further questioning by Steward’s attorney, Matt Baker, she said the forms had the necessary information on them, so they were accepted.

“Does it matter whose envelope it comes in?” Baker asked Sturgeon.

“To me it does not,” she said.

Baker asked whether Steward’s signature was anywhere on the form. She said it was not, and he asked whether any civics, intelligence or other tests were required to vote in Barren County, and she told him no.

Baker asked whether an illiterate person’s vote counts the same as a college professor’s, and Sturgeon said it did.

After the trial, the Daily Times asked Sharp whether he believed there was anything wrong about the way the requests were submitted.

“It’s not my place to say whether there was something wrong with it. The statute does say the voter or family members, and it has certain categories of people that can request absentee ballots or request and application,” Sharp said.

London testified a spouse, child or parent can request a ballot for a family member.

“In this case it appears that hundreds of requests for applications were in an envelope with Chris Steward’s address as a return,” Sharp said, “and there were forms in there that were the same forms for the request that was generated by somebody. They were all identical.”

The Daily Times asked whether the forms were all signed by the respective voters.

“They were signed by the voter. We haven’t had 200 voters come in and ask, but we know there was at least an instance where four of them came in and didn’t even know what they had signed. That’s where the potential problem lies, as to whether they actually signed or knew what they were signing to request the ballots. And if not, then who was doing that on their behalf and whether that was the proper legal person to be doing it.”

Asked why he raised this issue, Sharp said, “I was just trying to hit that a little bit to see where it went. ... It turned out that wasn’t really the issue we were here about today, but at least it got some of that out there.”

Steward said Thursday night he used those forms in past elections and had cleared them with two secretaries of state and two county clerks, including the current officeholders.

“There’s nothing illegal or  improper about it,” he said.

He carries the forms with him while campaigning, and using them helps him keep a record of who had requested a ballot. It also gives the clerk’s office something in writing, which would help prevent misunderstandings, he said.

“I obviously am telling them I am signing them up for an absentee ballot,” Steward said.

He tells them what to expect next, beginning with receiving the application.

“I explained to them what I was doing, and there shouldn’t be any surprises. To have five, six, seven not understand out of hundreds isn’t a bad percentage for people to be confused on that,” he said. “I kept it as simple as I could.”

He said he is not qualified to determine the reading or comprehension level of each voter.

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