“I want to put a plea out there for our voters to stand up for their rights.”
The polls are closed, the ballots have been counted, the primary is over, but questions remain in Gregg County Precinct 4 and, for Elections Administrator Kathryn Nealy, if there’s any substance to them, it need to be addressed.
In short, the results from absentee ballots tied to the March 6 Primary Election aren’t consistent with the turnout during early voting or on Election Day. It crops up in two local contests, and callers to the Elections Office allege, as in past contests, mail-in ballots were mishandled or manipulated.
“Every election there is a group of people that go door-to-door and solicit votes for a candidate,” Nealy said. “There’s a certain group of people who approach candidates, whoever may be running... They will approach that candidate and say, I can help you get so-many votes.”
In the week since the primary, the same hearsay calls have come in from Precinct 4, she confirmed, but none with evidence she can pass on to the Gregg County District Attorney’s Office.
“If I had that testimony I could file a charge against those persons,” Nealy said.
She’s reaching out to voters to be cautious of individuals offering assistance with absentee ballots.
“The persons coming to your door are presenting this as a service to you, but please be careful that they are not taking advantage of you – because you have the right to vote on your own and for the person you want to vote for, without anybody telling you what to do.”
For the most part, returns from the 2018 primary are consistent: between the various races, there are similar returns for early voting, Election Day and absentee ballots.
In Precinct 4, in two races in the Democratic Primary, the totals for mail-in ballots flip the numbers seen at the polls.
For Commissioner Precinct 4, candidates Shannon Brown and Kasha Williams initially split the returns with 1,036 votes each. Williams picked up an additional mail-in ballot Friday. With the addition of some provisional votes this week, Brown ends the contest with 1,047 decisions to 1,042 for Williams.
About 63 percent of almost 750 early votes went to Williams followed by 60 percent of Election Day’s ballots. But mail-in decisions inverted the other numbers, with Brown netting the majority at 73.5 percent of about 670 absentee ballots, about one-third of all votes cast in the race.
Similarly, in the race for Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace, candidate James Mathis drew about 30 percent of mail-in ballots, behind approximately 63 percent for Robby Cox. At the polls, however, Mathis held the lead with 59 percent of Election Day votes and 52 percent of early decisions, to 33 percent for Cox on election day and 44 percent of early votes. In third-place, Keeth Johnson’s numbers were relatively consistent – about eight percent of the vote on Election Day, 4.5 percent in early voting and seven percent from absentee ballots.
The News Herald was unable to reach the various candidates for comment.
For Jim Cogar, chairman of the Gregg County Democratic Party, the number are what they are.
“It just shows that the people on Election Day voted for one person and the people who sent in mail-in ballots voted for another,” he said simply.
Considering that, there are no inconsistencies to speak of, and Cogar is confident in the count from the Gregg County Elections Office, supervised by the county’s Democrat representatives.
“At this point, we have no plans right now as the Democratic Party of Gregg County to contest the election,” he said Tuesday, “but I can’t speak for any candidate. That would be something they would have to do.
“If anybody has proof of any irregularity, I would certainly like to hear from them.”
Election contests must be filed by candidates within a specific timeframe set by state guidelines – in the case of a primary, 10 days after the final canvass of votes.
According to Nealy, it’s permissible for someone to help voters, initially, with their absentee ballot applications.
“When it comes to the ballot, there are restrictions,” she said. “You can only assist someone with marking the ballot or mailing the ballot for them if they cannot read the ballot or mark the ballot for themselves.”
Consistently, Nealy said, there’s a “heavy amount” of absentee ballots in Precinct 4 – this year’s count was typical.
Complaints about absentee ballots are common, she added, but typically hearsay. For example, she’s taken calls of such allegations this election cycle, but none from anyone directly-impacted.
“Not yet,” Nealy said. “I have not gotten any calls from a voter or a voter’s family.”
Any complaints are forwarded to the district attorney’s office. Both Gregg County DA Carl Dorrough and his predecessor, the late-Bill Jennings, have investigated claims in the past.
There hasn’t been any proof of wrongdoing, Nealy said, only accusations and second- or third-hand complaints of an ongoing problem.
“I have been asking for help for a long time. Our hands are pretty much tied with what we can do to investigate any mail ballot fraud,” she said, “because I have to have proof or testimony.
“Any help that can come from any other source, I would love to have someone behind us that can help us get to the bottom of this.”
To contact the Gregg County Elections Office, call 903-237-2652.