PERRY/Military votes in peril
Wednesday, October 10, 2012 1:00 AM
Election officials disallowed nearly 800 over-seas military ballots in Florida's controversial 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore. Gore's campaign mantra was "count every vote" yet armed with a legal memo prepared by a Florida operative at campaign's request, Democratic lawyers sought to suppress military ballots they expected would favor Bush. It was working until the campaign sent Gore's running mate, Democratic Senator Joseph Lieberman, on "Meet The Press" to defend the tactic. Lieberman did not figuratively or literally "get the memo."
"If I was there, I would give the benefit of the doubt to ballots coming in from military personnel generally. Al Gore and I don't want to ever be part of anything that would put an extra burden on the military personnel abroad who want to vote," Lieberman said, destroying the strategy.
Federal law requires absentee ballots be ready by Sept. 22 and mailed to overseas and military voters. Former U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi, on behalf of the Mitt Romney Campaign, mailed letters to election officials in Michigan, Wisconsin, Vermont and Mississippi alleging ballots were not ready and asking for relief to ensure military ballots would be counted.
In Mississippi, the failure was in Hinds County where Election Commission Chairman Jermel Clark acknowledged to the Board of Supervisors that military ballots did not make it by the deadline. State law requires the Election Commission Chairman to prepare the ballot, but Clark - who has served on the Commission for eight years - told Supervisors he had not had the training and did not have the knowledge to do his job. Later, Clark told WLBT News the failure was actually a GOP conspiracy: "I think this is a ploy on the part of the Republican Party to overthrow the elections in Hinds County. The motive is so that you have lawsuits posted and filed so that the election would be overthrown."
Clark, a Democrat, told the Supervisors he asked Republican Commissioner Connie Cochran to help him prepare the ballot because she knows how, and he does not. Cochran said she would prepare the ballot for him if the ballot order of candidates remained alphabetized by last name, the approved standard for over 20 years by the Hinds County Election Commission. Clark wanted to change the ballot order to list all Democrats first, an election practice change not submitted to the Department of Justice for preclearance. Clark rightfully claims the ballot design is - as chairman - his prerogative. Cochran agreed but said if he wanted to make an unapproved change, she would not be a part of it. Clark suggested to the Supervisors that while Cochran did not ask to put Republicans first, if you look at the alphabet, Republican Bill Marcy would come before Democrat Bennie Thompson. This sinister GOP plot would also place Democrat Barack Obama before Republican Mitt Romney, and Democrat endorsed Earle Banks ahead of Republican endorsed Bill Waller for Mississippi Supreme Court.
Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann announced Pontotoc and Jefferson Davis counties also failed to have absentee ballots ready in time. Hosemann's office drafted a temporary administrative rule to extend the deadline for military absentee votes and submitted the rule to the Department of Justice for approval. Pontotoc's circuit clerk denied her county missed the deadline. Earlier this year, the Department of Justice and Wisconsin election officials entered a consent agreement in a similar deadline failure to extend the voting period for overseas absentees by an equal amount of days as missed by the deadline.
According to published reports, the Hinds County Deputy Circuit Clerk claimed a reason for the missed deadline was a lawsuit by Latrice Westbrooks to have her name placed on the ballot for Court of Appeals after the State Election Commission voted she did not meet the requirements. Regardless of that lawsuit, the ballot was set and the Mississippi Supreme Court essentially acknowledged such when it ruled against Westbrooks on Sept. 25. The Court pre-emptively denied a motion for rehearing because "the ballots have been printed and voting by absentee ballot began on September 22, 2012."
Hinds County missed the deadline by over a week, but officials claim all military absentee ballots are out and if the delay does not hamper the return of the votes, the Romney Campaign is satisfied.
Hinds County Republican Party Chairman Pete Perry (no relation) is not satisfied. Perry expressed concerns that voters unable to vote absentee because the ballot was not ready may not be able to try again. He questioned the security of temporary absentee ballots copied by the Commission instead of being certified and printed as ballots. And he fears workers brought in to assist Clark may have accessed SEMS (State Elections Management System) without authorization, allowing them to view or edit confidential voter information.
Where is Senator Lieberman when we need him?
Brian Perry is a partner with Capstone Public Affairs, LLC. Reach him by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org.