In hopes of avoiding confusion about the “nuts and bolts” of conducting the November general election, Jefferson County election Commissioners Trey Ashcraft and Stuart Soffer sat down with a small group of candidates Wednesday to explain the process.
“We want to make the process as open as possible and, hopefully, as smooth as possible,” said Ashcraft, who is chairman of the commission.
Starting with absentee ballots, which Soffer said offered the “biggest potential for voter fraud” in the state, the commissioners went through early voting, what happens on Election Day and how they planned to report the final vote totals.
Regarding absentee ballots, Senior Deputy County Clerk Katherine Wooldridge they may be picked up beginning Oct. 22, the same day that early voting starts.
“The biggest thing we run into with absentee ballots is a signature issue,” Ashcraft said. “If they don’t match, the vote is not going to be counted.”
Woolridge said early voting will begin Monday, Oct. 22, and the clerk’s office will have the extended hours of 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. starting Monday, Oct. 22, and continuing through Friday, Nov. 2. The clerk’s office will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. for Saturday voting on Oct. 27 and Nov. 4.
On Nov. 5, the final day before the general election, the clerk’s office will maintain the regular office hours of 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Wooldridge also urged the candidates in attendance to remind their supporters to make sure their addresses are updated in the voter registration files.
“We’ve had tons of applications over the past few weeks,” she said.
Woolridge also said that while picture identification is not required for a person to vote, the clerks will ask for it because “it helps us to find a person in the system if something like the birthday or spelling is listed wrong.”
Roger McLemore, an independent candidate for Jefferson County sheriff who is challenging incumbent Sheriff Gerald Robinson, questioned Wooldridge about Robinson “hanging out in the clerk’s office.
“I wouldn’t have a problem with that except this time he can interact with potential voters,” McLemore said.
Ashcraft said if McLemore had specific concerns, he should take them up with County Clerk Patricia Royal Johnson, but added, “he has an office in the building and is going to be in the hallway. That’s part of being an elected official.”
While the election commission runs activities on Election Day, Soffer said “early voting is the jurisdiction of the county clerk and if there are problems, contact the county clerk.”
On Election Day, Nov. 6, Ashcraft said the polls will close at 7:30 p.m., and it could take 30 to 45 minutes to shut down the poll site before the returns are brought to the county courthouse where they will be counted.
“The earliest numbers should be out about 8 or 8:15 p.m., and those will be the early and absentee votes,” he said. “We’re going to try and get the numbers out as quickly as possible, but there’s a legal process that has to be followed.”
Ashcraft also encouraged the candidates to come and watch the counting process.
“We want to be very transparent in everything we do,” he said.
Ashcraft and Soffer also discussed electioneering near polling sites, saying that the commission’s jurisdiction is “100 feet from the site.
“Candidates can’t go to a polling site except to vote or to assist six disabled voters,” Soffer said. “They can’t even use the bathroom at a site if they would come into contact with voters.”
He also talked about candidates using vehicles to haul voters to polling sites, pulling up in front of the doors with campaign signs on their vehicles.
“The first time they do it we’re going to be nice,” he said. “The second time we’re going to call police.”
Election Coordinator Will Fox said on Election Day, “we will have 400 part-time workers. Their average age is 75, and they’re there to measure the will of the people, not to give out election results.”
Another candidate training session is set for 2 p.m. Friday at the Election Commission Office on Main Street.