I have heard it said that there isn’t just one election in Alabama but 67, and I am beginning to believe that is true.
I, like so many others, fell into the rut of believing my party was doing what it should and voted accordingly. I was a federal employee and felt I had to walk a fine line regarding politics to stay away from Big Brother in the office of special counsel. I had become the proverbial “complacent voter.” I retired from the government and, over the past decade, have seen a big change in the way not only the party but politics as a whole operate; I'm able and eager to become involved.
I started reading more and more about the process, candidates and watching legislation being introduced at the local and federal levels. With this limited knowledge and anxious to become a cog in the wheel and help as needed, I ventured out and joined my county executive committee. I attended meetings, voiced opinions, and authored and co-authored resolutions on various issues, with many going to the state Resolution Committee and some you would have thought I asked for their firstborn.
Feeling more comfortable I joined another group, the North Central Alabama Republican Assembly (NCALRA), which serves the Cullman, Lawrence, Limestone, Madison, Marshall and Morgan Counties. This is a group I had never heard of before. It is a local group of the Alabama Republican Assembly, a state chapter of the National Federation of Republican Assemblies, which I later found out has been around since the 1930s, became more popular out west in the ’60s, and Ronald Reagan attributed them with getting him into the White House. I am now the vice president of this group.
Their mission is to advocate for issues that adhere to the ALGOP platform and hold Alabama elected and appointed government officials accountable for their actions...and inaction. We influence state, county and municipal politics in Alabama in defense of individual liberty, American exceptionalism and our constitutional republic.
I became active and assisted in getting calls to action out to other organizations, county executive committees and legislators on what was perceived to be critical legislative bills. A few folks from this group decided that with all the information circulating around the “shenanigans” in the elections and our previous Secretary of State espousing that we were the “Gold Standard,” we would take a look at the processes our counties ran.
Under Alabama Administrative Code, section 307.-X-1- .18.2(c) and Code of Alabama Section 36-12-40 we embarked upon our adventure, reviewing the documents in Envelope 5, which are held for contested elections and public review. We created spreadsheets with all the counties' precincts to collect data from the Ballot Accounting Certificates (BAC) and the Tabulation Tapes. Now, the fun started.
Most of the counties were small and only had 30-35 precincts, and then there was Madison County, having 73. Setting up appointments was relatively easy, all done by email, citing the above sections as justification. It was emphasized this was a review to look at issues that may require emphasized training for poll workers and the probate judges' offices. Most probate judges were immediately open to this, with some who had been in their prospective office working elections for over 30 years saying this had never been done before. There was uncertainty on the part of a few because it hadn’t been done before, which was easily rectified by calls to the Secretary of State’s office. We embarked on our mission with Morgan County first.
The first was time-consuming; it was rather difficult to follow the forms and which envelope was used for what. All I knew was we were looking at envelope five. I watched an online poll worker training video that Morgan County had online, and it really made it easier to understand. Then I delved more into the Alabama Codes, Probate Judge Handbook and the Poll Worker Handbook, which solidified a lot of what I watched in the video. Hats off to the probate judges. Their duties are immense.
It took months to complete the six counties. We were able to make the necessary arrangements, leaving Madison for last due to its size. Then, during making the appointments, they postponed due to a special election. But with the help of another member, after eight months they were all done.
Now to what was found. One of the first things noted was that as election results have become widely available online, the media outlets are no longer coming to the probate judges' offices and reviewing the media envelopes. (Probably missing some good stories.)
Overall, the review process found that many precincts had documents missing. This ranged from one or more total tabulation tapes, a few not having the BAC, and one precinct not having an envelope at all. Documents missing ranged from just a couple of items per county to almost 40% of envelope five documents in one county. This made the verification of total voters accounted for from the poll books with vote totals on the tabulation tapes impossible in that county. One common area noted in several of the precincts in all counties was they overlooked the express votes, which are maintained in a separate system. BAC forms had mistakes on them, e.g., math errors, data recorded in the wrong areas, and no totals. This resulted in an overall 35,000+ votes in the six counties not being verifiable unless court orders (Writs of Mandamus) were obtained from the county courts to see if the documents existed and could be retrieved from the Sheriff’s Offices.
One thought on the human error part of the discrepancies is believed to be that the inspectors and poll workers have to work a 13-plus hour day, which may result in over-fatigue and lack of concentration on the part of the workers. It’s not just the workers but also the voters that play into it. One precinct had a voter who spoiled 12 ballots and on the 13th, got mad and left with the ballot, which threw the numbers off by one. That was annotated on the BAC.
All the counties' envelopes were sealed and appropriately marked when I received them; one county even had me sign an affidavit that I was the person who unsealed them. The exception was one that had been opened and had a piece of tape used to reseal them. When this was noted to the county, I was advised that there is nothing saying they need to remain sealed. This is one of those areas that is open to interpretation I guess, as I, a layman, believed otherwise. To paraphrase, Alabama Code 17-12-12 stipulates that all envelopes are to be sealed until such time as they are opened per applicable law. But in any case, I would think to avoid any misperception, you’d leave them sealed.
Again, the main reason for the review was to spot specific areas in which additional or emphasized training for the poll workers and employees in the Probate Judges office could be identified. This entire process was aimed at helping the voting process and easing the fears that have been stirred up by media and other organization releases.
As my response to one of the Probate Judge related, “I believe this review was, and is, a critical step in the voting process, especially as some polls show upwards of 60% of Americans do not trust the election process. This is one of the greatest responsibilities the citizen has. It’s their one chance to provide a voice on who will represent them at various governmental levels and in a manner that coincides with their values. As such, this entire process has to be on solid footing in every aspect. It may be 100% behind the scenes where the count and reporting are done, but if what the average citizen can see is not up to par, it casts doubts in the entire system.” When the voter loses faith in the process, they will stop participating. It is a shame that this hasn’t been done in over 30 years.
I have seen where improvements can be made in the process. Our previous Secretary of State said we were the “Gold Standard,” which I haven’t really seen yet. We may have a good grade of silver, but we still have a lot of work to do to make the gold.
It just “wobbles the mind” as Kelly Bundy always said, to think that with all the media and groups clambering about the election process, how votes were “stolen,” we have not taken concrete steps to soothe the minds of the voters rather than wasting time selecting a sweet potato, the peanut, the Lane Cake and now a state cookie. This is critical to the verification process of our elections. We are fast approaching another election and need to work fast to put in place additional legislation to make the elections more secure and build the confidence of the voters.
I will say that all Alabamians should take the time to visit their party executive committee meetings. They are open to the public, and everyone should see what is going on locally. That is where a solid foundation for your government starts. For those executive committees, reach out to your probate judge's office, conduct your own reviews of the documentation, and ensure they are dotting the I’s and crossing their T’s. It does nothing but help everyone.
Charles "Kip" Kiplinger is vice president of the North Central Alabama Republican Assembly.
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