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Ranburne prepares for what could be its first local election in 28 years

Ranburne election planning

Probate judge Ryan Robertson talks to the Ranburne Town Council about the basics of a municipal election. Ranburne hasn't held an election in 28 years, as no more than one candidate has signed up to run for any seat. That may change this summer. Listening, from left to right are city clerk and magistrate Pamela Thompson; council members David Walker and Mitzi Smith; Mayor Chuck Smith; council members Trevor Kribbs, Dennis Anglin and Samantha Smith.

RANBURNE — For the first time in 28 years the town of Ranburne seems set to hold a municipal election this summer.

Cleburne County Probate Judge Ryan Robertson, Circuit Clerk Warren Sarrell and County Commissioner Terry Hendrix, visited the Town Council on Monday night to familiarize its members with the unfamiliar protocols of local elections.

The last election for Town Council in Ranburne was in 1992; since that time council candidates have either run unopposed or have been appointed to vacancies by the other council members. While voters in most Alabama cities and towns have gone to the polls in August every four years to choose mayors and council members, Ranburne residents had no choices to make.

That may change this year. Rodney Brown has said he will challenge Ranburne Town Councilwoman Samantha Smith for mayor in the Aug. 25 election.

Chuck Smith, the current Ranburne mayor, was appointed to the position last year after the previous mayor, Jim Smith, was forced out of office for failing to attend any council meetings for 90 consecutive days. (The two Smiths are not related.)

“I think it’s going to be great to have an election. It gives people a chance to come out and vote on who they want for mayor. It’s great,” the current Mayor Smith said after the meeting.

 “We really need to know about ... what we need to do to have an election,” Smith said.

Robertson brought a handout and a copy of the Alabama election handbook and told the council what to expect.

For example, Robertson said that under a municipal election candidates don’t declare any party affiliation. The basics are simple, of course. The winner of a race featuring two candidates is the one who gets a majority of the vote.

Councilman Trevor Kribbs asked Robertson what happens if only two people are running for office and each has the same number of votes. In the event of a tie, Robertson said, a coin could be flipped to determine the winner.

In races with three or more candidates in which no one gets more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two finishers go to a runoff election, held six weeks later.

“In municipal elections a majority vote is required for an election and a runoff is used if no candidate receives the majority,” Robertson said.

He also told the council of the various filing deadlines — candidates must file paperwork to run between July 7 and July 26 — and whether candidates must file campaign finance forms if they don’t campaign. He said that since he has been in office he has not been asked to oversee any municipal elections and was unaware of any candidates ever filing any campaign financial documents in the county’s smaller towns.

“Of course Fruithurst, Edwardsville and Ranburne you’ve always been pretty much the same, nobody’s filed anything, usually you’re just doing good to get someone to serve,” Robertson said. 

Town Councilman David Walker asked Robertson another basic question: Who counts the votes on election day?

Robertson said that a minimum of four poll workers — who are also registered voters in the town —  are needed to count the votes.

Robertson went on to discuss many other election topics including voting machines, paper ballots, recounts, compensation for poll workers and ballot styles.

Sarrell told the council how absentee ballots are processed and how a voter can qualify for an absentee ballot; those qualifications include being a full-time student, being physically handicapped and unable to reach the polls, on vacation or similar situations.

Sarrell said he processes the absentee ballots, and a separate machine is used to process the votes on election day in some situations. 

Sarrell said that absentee voting is not early voting to avoid lines on election day, rather it’s for voters who have a valid reason they can’t make it to the polls.

Council members listened intently to the suggestions from Sarrell and Robertson and took lots of notes.

​Staff writer Bill Wilson: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @bwilson_star.