A Democratic voter’s only choices will be between President Barack Obama and an uncommitted candidate for president and then eight Obama delegates to the Democratic National Convention. A quirk of the state Democratic Party requires voters choose from among two gender-specific candidate lists — four men and four women.
Circuit Clerk Ted Hooks said this is the first time he’s seen such an empty Democratic ballot in his 18 years in office.
The county pays a pretty hefty price for ballots with no local candidates. Although no cost projections are available for this year’s election yet, the county paid $123,271 to run a similar primary in February 2008, according to County Administrator Ken Joiner.
The ballots alone in 2008 cost $28,660 for the Democratic ballots and $29,990 for the Republican ballots. “I’ve never seen it go down, I’ll tell you that,” Joiner said of the anticipated costs for the March election.
The Democratic choices might be slim, but the double-sided Republican ballot includes seven presidential candidates and more than a page of potential delegates committed to each of the candidates. In addition, there are Republican candidates for six state and local offices, including 19 candidates for seven at-large seats on the Calhoun County Board of Education.
But the Democrats do have a few candidates for local office come November. They are fielding three candidates to the GOP’s 19 for those seven school board seats, and Missy Hall and Foster Marshall are running for circuit clerk and circuit judge, respectively.
The Republicans are “pleased as punch” with the new state of things, said Gene Howard, chair of the Calhoun County GOP. Of the 27 local officials within the county, 24 of them are now Republicans, most of whom were initially elected as Democrats, he noted.
Howard said those who have switched parties in recent years have expressed to him discomfort with the atmosphere of the Democratic Party on a national level.
Sheila Gilbert, the chair of the county Democratic Party, said the state of the Democratic ballot shouldn’t be a great surprise with the recent trend. But she said she believes the trend may be temporary. “I think the Democrats just need to ride out the storm and wait for 2014,” she said, noting that once the policies of Republicans play themselves out, voters may be ready to return Democrats to office.
But the present disparity in local candidates between the parties, Hooks said, could lead to cross-voting on Election Day. The Alabama Republican Party has no rule against it, and with no local offices to vote on, he expects that even national Democrats will request a Republican ballot to vote for their local officials.
“That is what is going to happen, believe me,” he said.
But Hooks wonders whether the somewhat-complicated Republican ballot will be confusing for voters on Election Day.
Clayton Turner, a project manager for the Alabama Republican Party, explained that the state party requires that a voter’s choice for delegates must match the choice for presidential candidate.
But voting for non-matching delegates will not invalidate a ballot, said Calhoun County Probate Judge Alice Martin. “Our voting machines will not reject the ballot if you vote under every single delegate and you vote for one candidate as it directs you to.”
The vote for presidential candidate supersedes any votes for delegates, said Turner, so any votes for non-matching delegates simply will not be counted.
“Technically, a person should vote for the delegate for the person that is associated with the candidate they’ve chosen,” said Martin, “but as long as they don’t over vote — don’t vote for two when it says vote for one — their ballot will be accepted by the machine.”
Calhoun County residents meeting the requirements for absentee voting can avoid the Election Day confusion altogether.
Voters may submit an application for an absentee ballot by March 8 if they will be absent from the county on Election Day, are ill or have a physical disability that prevents a trip to the polling place, are registered Alabama voters living outside the county, are appointed election officers or poll watchers at a polling place other than their regular polling place, or work a required shift of 10 hours or more that coincides with polling hours.
Hooks said he has seen a decline in absentee voting in recent years because of strict requirements for the process, which, unless followed very specifically, can result in the ballot being thrown out. But anyone wishing to apply for an absentee ballot can come — with ID in hand — to the clerk’s office in the Calhoun County Courthouse to apply for a ballot and vote in person. All applications must be made by March 8.