ASHLAND • Confusion ensued at Benton County precincts Tuesday, Aug. 6 during the primary election. Several Benton County voters claim they were not given the option to vote Republican. Others say that they never saw sample ballots before receiving their voting card. Still others claim that they were given options and ballots were clearly posted.
“I went to vote Tuesday and was not offered the option to vote Republican,” said Teresa Gadd who votes at the Abel’s Store Fire Department (Precinct 4). "I signed the book, was given a piece of paper that said D5 on it, and went to the back to get my voting card." Gadd said she noticed the Democrat candidates for state offices were listed on her ballot. She skipped over those thinking the Republicans would be further down the ballot. When she got to the local elections, she cast her vote for those Democrats listed. "They never gave me the option, and I was going to vote Republican all the way." Gadd also claims she did not see sample ballots posted.
Amy Cole, who voted at the North Canaan Fire Department (Precinct 1), said she was not asked which ballot she wanted either but she did know she was choosing local candidates over her preferred party affiliation. "I walked in. They asked my last name and directed me to a station with two ladies who viewed my driver's license, looked up my name, had me sign the book, handed me a card and motioned me to the voting machines. My husband was behind me and they did the same for him. Did not ask either of us anything except our last names."
Mary Beth Warhurst, who votes at Precinct 4 had a similar experience. "No one asked me which ballot I needed. I should have specified, but I’ve never gotten a Democratic ballot before, so I assumed it would be the Republican ballot," said Warhurst. "It was the Democratic ballot that I got and as I was going through it I noticed that everyone local was actually on there. It was explained to me later that everyone runs on that ballot. That does not make any sense to me. You’re telling me that all the people running are actually Democrats? I think that’s a lie just to get votes and I think that’s awful. So from now on I will specifically ask for the Republican ballot because this time I missed out on the state voting."
Circuit Clerk Kathy Graves believes that the confusion arose because voters did not understand that they had to declare a party in the primary election. She said voters she talked to were upset they could not vote Republican in the state elections and Democrat in the local elections. She also said every precinct had two tables, one for Republican voters and one for Democrat voters and they were clearly labeled.
"I was getting complaints from voters all day long," said Graves. "They wanted to vote for local candidates but they wanted to vote Republican in the other races." Graves said the voters did not have that option because all the local candidates were on the Democrat ticket.
"I go to all the precincts to observe when I get complaints," continued Graves. "The poll workers were asking the right questions and there were ballots on the tables and by the entrances. They were directing people to the sample ballots when voters were not sure which ballot they wanted." Graves said every precinct had a three-foot tall banner on polls with enlarged copies of both the Democrat and Republican ballot on it. Graves also said that she had posted sample ballots on Facebook and they were published in the Southern Advocate the week before the election along with an explanation of the primary voting process.
Some voters reaffirmed Graves's comments stating they were given the option between Republican and Democrat ballots. "The poll workers asked me which ballot I wanted to vote and showed me the sample ballots to explain. They were big posters right where I walked in," said Rena Byrd, who votes at Precinct 4.
Byrd's brother, Kenneth Brock added, "My family and I went to vote together. When we got to the door, there were two ladies sitting to the left. They asked if we were voting for Democrats or Republicans. We kind of froze because we were confused. They pointed to the sample ballots to our right and explained that we could only vote for one of the two ballots."
"There were people who were frustrated because they couldn't vote for a Republican for governor and still vote for local people," continued Brock. "The sample ballots were across from the poll workers, to our right. They were easy to notice. They were big poster-like things. They were both white but one was highlighted in red and one was highlighted in blue."
Another voter at the Hickory Flat precinct, who wished to remain anonymous, said she wished that Mississippi had open primary elections. She said she did vote Republican but that the poll workers assumed that she would vote Democrat because the local elections were on the Democrat ballot. "They made sure I knew that I couldn't vote for locals if I voted Republican. I knew already. I just thought the governor race was more important than the sheriff race, etc....I have seen many people upset about the candidates not being on the same ballot, and I know it's been this way for some time. I'm not sure how the other voters didn't know that. However, I have been commenting (on social media) for people to inform their legislators they want open primaries."
Graves says that she is willing to explain the primary process to anyone who is confused or would like to know more. She said that sample ballots are always available at the Circuit Clerk's office in advance of the election. Please call her office at 224-6310 with any questions, comments, problems or concerns involving the election or election process.