Candidates and voters wait for provisional ballots to be counted at the Etowah County Courthouse on Tuesday, May 31. Katie Bohannon/Messenger.
By Katie Bohannon, Editor-in-Chief
The local Republican and Democratic parties certified the results of the May 24 primaries on Tuesday, May 31, sparking a wave of candidates planning to run for office.
The parties certified the results after the provisional ballots were counted, which did not materially change the numbers for the races affected by the redistricting error, causing voters in Etowah County received incorrect ballots for their respective areas. Ahead of certification, candidates weighed in on the situation, with many backing a new election (coinciding with the June 21 run-off) as the best course of action moving forward.
Those planning to run for office campaigned in error-influenced races. Incumbent Alabama House of Representatives District 28 candidate Gil Isbell, Alabama House of Representatives District 29 candidate Jamie Grant, County Commission District 4 candidate Jeff Overstreet Etowah, and Etowah County Commission District 5 candidate Carolyn Parker, all plan to run.
According to Etowah County GOP Election Chairman Misty Ledbetter, the state party will certify the results on Wednesday, June 1 at noon. Candidates then file contests with the county president or state parties. Etowah County Republican Party candidate contests for seats like the county commissioner have until 5 p.m. on June 1 to contest. Those qualified through the state party have 24 hours to file a competition (with the state), which is the Thursday June 2 deadline.
The state party that leads the committee hears the challenges and renders a decision. The state party then submits the names of party candidates to the secretary of state. Under Alabama’s 17-13-72 code, the party has the power, in a contest, to declare who was legally nominated in the primary for an office.
Etowah County Democratic Party Chairman Charles Abney explained that candidates such as Parker seeking to run have a 2 p.m. deadline on June 1. After the contest, the party leadership has five days to make a decision. This process coincides with an impending date of June 7, which is the deadline for sending updated ballots to the printer.
Parker shared that the voting inaccuracies — from machine complications to ballot mix-ups — were too big to ignore and ultimately influenced her protest plans.
“Win or lose, I want to play a part in ensuring people have the right to a fair electoral process in Etowah County,” Parker said. “It’s important to me. In the end, good is always good and bad is bad. [When you have almost (or) all candidates contesting] it’s more about the integrity of the electoral process than winners or losers.
While Isbell initially considered running for office, he shared that ongoing issues were cropping up — both before and after the results were tallied — and conversations with concerned citizens sealed his decision. To avoid confusion in the future, he suggested developing and providing voters with more detailed and easily accessible maps, to remove any uncertainty about which addresses are in each district. Isbell believes that ensuring maps are updated and voters stay aware of those updates is a critical part of correcting the problem.
Isbell understands that the candidates have differing opinions, but he and Grant see the issue as more important than who wins or loses. “If the shoe was on the other foot,” both candidates would expect their opponents to respond the same way. They believe that fixing the problem for voters and giving them the opportunity to support who and what they believe is best for their constituencies is what matters most.
“No matter what happens, we need to fix the problem so the error never happens again,” Isbell said.
But the lone candidates aren’t the only ones wondering how the error impacted the results, or those backing a new election. District 29 resident Jeff Chamblee remains invested as the news unfolds. He believes the issue is proving significant enough to influence the election results, by attending the provisional counting of the ballots on May 21. Chamblee – who voted at the Mountainboro Volunteer Fire Department – said he wanted to support Grant in the election, only to find Grant’s name did not appear on the ballot. When he asked election officials about the discrepancy, they said several voters had the same question.
“I think they should let us vote again,” said Chamblee, who felt the polling location would have made a difference in the results.
Grant doesn’t believe anything nefarious happened with the election — he views the error as human error with the potential for correction. As other incidents reflecting Chamblee’s experience occurred – both in Grant District and others – he feels people across Etowah County were unable to make their voices heard. voice with precision. While everyone had the opportunity to vote, not everyone had the opportunity to vote according to their wishes.
Grant sees the situation as a lapse that the Republican Party should correct. His attorney, Mike Haney, discussed provisions that would give the party the freedom not to certify the results and call for new elections. Haney agrees with Grant, noting that a fair resolution to the problem lies in simply adding names to the June runoff, which Haney said would not cost the county additional 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 have questioned the results of the 2020 presidential election, sharing that leaders locals have the opportunity to correct a mistake that directly affects their communities. “It’s a chance for local government to show people that 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 local level, how the hell are we going to fix things at the national level?”
Grant – along with Isbell – does not plan to challenge the issue in court.
“I want our leaders and our executive members to see the problem and fix it,” Grant said. “I don’t want the court to fix this or anyone else to make any decisions. If the party cannot correct itself, then who are we?
According to Tuesday’s certified results, Mack Butler beat Isbell in the House District 28 race. He said he was one of the first to discover the mistake, when his sister tried to vote and couldn’t find her name on a mail-in ballot. Butler shared that he ‘didn’t take no for an answer’, trying to work through the issue and on Election Day he also received calls from voters who planned to vote for him but couldn’t because of it. ballots received. While Butler always advocates challenging the government, he sums up what happened in Etowah County as human error that he hopes will soon be resolved. He commended the Board of Registrars for their efforts regarding the situation.
“The thing is, everyone got a ballot and it was up to the voters to know what districts they were in,” Butler said. “We trust the process throughout.”
Jeffery Washington, holder of Etowah County Commission District 5 (and winner according to certified results), also believes in trust in the process regarding the election. While others seek a new election, Washington does not support this avenue. He believes that asking citizens to come back to vote is an ordeal that should be avoided.
“As an elected official, if we don’t believe in the system we’re running for, it’s very hard for people to trust us,” Washington said. “I think the voters cast their vote and asked that I represent them, and I thank them for that. The elected officials must allow the people to have the choice and when they make their choice, let us respect their will.
For the District 29 race, Grant garnered the majority of votes from Etowah County, while Gidley won Calhoun County, putting it in the lead. He addressed the voting error that he supports correction and shared that he wanted the confusion cleared up, but thinks “the people are the winners” by speaking out and supporting their respective candidate.
“That’s what’s been important to me since I started – serving people,” Gidley said. “I believe everyone had a chance to vote and people spoke.”