03/12/13 — Commissioners talk voting

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Commissioners talk voting

By Steve Herring
Published in News on March 12, 2013 1:46 PM

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From left, Wayne County Commissioners John Bell and Joe Daughtery listen to presentations Monday by county department managers. Presentations were to continue today as commissioners began preparing the 2013-14 county budget.

Monday's presentations by Wayne County department managers before the county Board of Commissioners were billed as a way for commissioners to learn more about the departments and their budget needs as the county prepares to craft its 2013-14 budget.

The meeting was long on information and duration, lasting more than seven hours, but short on specific budget information.

And on several occasion commissioners strayed from the budget to discuss issues outside their control, especially voting.

The board heard presentations from Solid Waste, Board of Elections, Tax Department, Register of Deeds, Inspections, Information Technology, Mapping/GIS, Planning, Veterans Services, and the Office of Emergency Services.

Department heads had been asked to address specific topics in their presentation, including the department's responsibilities, issues caused by expected state and federal budget cuts, trends that could affect the department, goals, the number of employees in a department, whether the department is mandated by the state or federal government, and its total budget and how much is funded by the county.

The presentations were supposed to last about 15 minutes each.

But commissioners quickly fell behind schedule when they spent nearly two hours on the first three departments -- Solid Waste, the Board of Elections and Tax Department.

More than 30 minutes of the delay happened when commissioners launched into a discussion on voter identification during the presentation by Board of Elections Director Rosemary Blizzard.

They never recovered the time and the meeting that started at 11 a.m. and was to end at 5 p.m. did not end until 6:30 p.m.

Even then, several departments that were to make presentations were rescheduled for today, beginning at 1:30 p.m. A third round of presentations will be held in April.

During the Elections Board presentation, Republican Commissioner Ray Mayo questioned the procedure for removing dead people from voting rolls.

"Since this is public record concerning these voter records is it possible that a person could find that individual who is deceased and actually go vote in their place?" he said. "Is it possible?"

Mrs. Blizzard said that it might be possible. However, she told Mayo to keep in mind that person has to sign an authorization to vote form.

That way if there is any protest regarding a person's identity there is a signature to compare, she said.

"One thing that you have to keep in mind is that precinct officials are trained to take a look at a person," she said. "Obviously, if my paperwork says this is an 88-year-old white female, and I hope I don't look 88, that they would stop me and say, 'This doesn't match you.'"

Mayo asked if a death certificate was enough to have a person removed. It is, she said,

"Well, I can show you some examples, unless it has been removed in the last three or four months, that that is the case," Mayo said.

Mrs. Blizzard said she appreciated any help in ensuring the rolls are correct.

"I know there is a lot of discussion right now about voter ID, but it is above my pay grade to have an opinion on that right now," she said. "But certainly the first step, and probably the cheapest step that we could take to avoid fraud is to have clean records. So any opportunity I have to clean up the voter registration base, I am all for it."

Democratic Commissioner Ed Cromartie said that hypothetically people could try to use the names of every dead voter. They could try, Mrs. Blizzard said,

"How many people to your knowledge in Wayne County have come in your administration and the previous 10 years that there is evidence that somebody used some dead person's identification and voted?" Cromartie said.

"I don't know of any," she said. "In my tenure the board has not handled any protest or challenge that involved that issue."

Republican Commissioner Joe Daughtery disputed the lack of fraud.

"Are you aware of any voter who appeared to vote in this last election who complained that someone had already voted in their stead," he said.

Mrs. Blizzard said she was.

"You are? Because I got a number of calls in regard to that," Daughtery said. "So my question to you is who would have voted for that individual, used their name, signed their name evidently if it was during early voting, committed fraud by doing so? So there is in fact evidence that fraud did occur."

Mrs. Blizzard said her office did investigate.

"What we found in instances that we were made aware of is that it wasn't evidence where I went in and said, 'I am Joe Daughtery and I am going to vote in his place,'" she said. "It was that the precinct official would pick Joe Daughtery Sr. instead of Joe Daughtery Jr."

"So no fraud occurred?" Daughtery said.

"Not that I am aware of any person who walked in with the deliberate intention of voting in the place of someone else," Mrs. Blizzard said.

Daughtery called her response qualified and said it was her opinion.

He again asked if someone other than the actual voter appeared and voted. He said there were instances where voters complained that happened and they were required to cast a provisional ballot.

That is the procedure, Mrs. Blizzard said.

Again it was determined the fault lay with poll workers and was not fraud, she said.

Daughtery repeated his previous comments. He was followed by Mayo who repeated his earlier comments about dead people still being on the poll records as being eligible to vote.

"The fact is no criminal intent was discovered," Cromartie said. "There was no criminal evidence found that someone did that on purpose. No one was charged."

That is correct, Mrs. Blizzard said. Nor were there any challenges or protests filed with the board of elections, she said.

"It is amazing to me and I sit here listening to all of this rhetoric and everything that is being said," Democratic Commissioner John Bell said. "I would just like to make a brief comment. If you guys had gone through what I had gone through during my lifetime you wouldn't be entertaining this thing about whether or not some dead person has gone up and voted or not."

Bell said that he was in the military the first time that he tried to vote when he returned to his home in Clinton in Sampson County.

Bell said that the first thing that was placed in front of him was a jar of beans. Bell said he was told he had to guess the number of beans in order to vote.

"Now you see, if you had come up through that kind of stuff you wouldn't even be trying to think about somebody not being able to vote," he said. "I was not able to register and vote my first time because of these poll gimmicks.

"This is a good system that we have now. I guarantee you there is nobody up here working as hard as I do out there in the field in Wayne County registering people, working with people and I have yet to anyone trying to vote that wasn't authorize to vote. I have been working for over 30 years in this county and I have not seen one case yet."