A candidate for Calhoun County Commission said he plans on contesting the results of the July 15 primary runoff election, citing what he said was a lack of absentee ballots counted, as well as misinformation presented to voters by election officials.
James Montgomery lost to incumbent Fred Wilson for the Democratic nominee for the Calhoun County District 1 Commission seat by 159 votes. Montgomery said missing absentee ballots could have swung the election in his favor. He said Tuesday that after provisional ballots were counted for last week’s election, he will contest the results.
“I’m contesting this based on what we see as misconduct by election officials,” Montgomery said. “They made people afraid to vote, and that’s wrong.”
Montgomery said his protest is specifically in regard to comments made by Calhoun County Board of Registrars member Carolyn Henderson about the number of absentee ballot applications received by her office prior to the election. Henderson told The Star she was concerned by the high volume of absentee requests, which numbered more than 400, and was much higher than she had ever seen for one district in a runoff election.
Only 207 absentee ballots ended up counted toward the District 1 Commission race. Henderson said not all of the residents who requested ballots returned them, and several were not counted due to not filling out the returned ballots properly.
Montgomery, however, said many ballots were likely not returned because Henderson suggested that his campaign strategy — which included collecting absentee votes in west Anniston — was illegal and that it scared voters. The candidate said he did nothing unlawful, and told residents to only vote absentee if they fulfilled the requirements to do so under state law.
In Alabama, voters are allowed to cast an absentee ballot if they will be out of town during the election, are physically unable to make it to the polls, or work a 10-hour shift that coincides with the times the polls are open.
Montgomery said there is nothing unusual about the number of residents from District 1 — that includes most of Anniston and areas west of the city, Hobson City and a small portion of Oxford — that requested to vote absentee.
“There are more than 8,000 registered voters in District 1, and we’re talking about 400 that requested absentee ballots,” Montgomery said. “She’s making a big deal out of a small number of voters, and the question is why?”
Henderson said the number of absentee votes was anything but small, and 400 absentee ballots would constitute more than were cast in the entire county for the June primary which featured many statewide and local races. By comparison, just one absentee vote was counted in the county outside of District 1 in the July 15 runoff election.
Montgomery picked up about 35 percent of the votes cast at all polling locations in District 1 on July 15, grabbing 362 votes to Wilson’s 671. Montgomery closed the gap with absentee ballots, however, with an overwhelming 171 compared to the 31 for Wilson. When provisional ballots were counted on Tuesday, Montgomery picked up another 18 votes, while Wilson gained a single ballot.
Still, Montgomery doesn’t think those numbers come close to the true number of absentee ballots that should have been counted to his vote tally.
Under Alabama law, candidates wishing to contest the results of an election must do so within 24 hours of the canvassing board certifying the results. Provisional ballots in the District 1 Commission election were counted at noon on Tuesday, but were still awaiting the final certified vote by the afternoon.