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A week before election, county working to fix voting district mistakes

When Chris Lunsford set out to challenge incumbent Chris Brown for Brown’s District 1 Randolph County Commission seat, Lunsford decided on an old-school campaign strategy.

“My campaign is a door-to-door campaign,” he said.

Lunsford went to the Alabama secretary of state and purchased a list of all of the registered voters – and their addresses – in District 1, so he could do his best to pay each one of them a visit and ask for their vote person to person.

By doing so, he not only shook a ton of hands, he wound up winning the votes of people who, as it turns out, cannot even vote for him.

Lunsford’s campaign efforts last week uncovered errors in some voters’ county commission district designations, and those errors could impact which commission seat appears on their ballots.

Some neighborhoods in the county – particularly in the Wadley and Hunter Bend areas – were found to be listed on the official voter’s list as part of the wrong district. Hunter Bend, for example, is in District 4, but addresses within the neighborhood were erroneously listed as being in District 1.

The errors left probate judge George Diamond and staff members in the registrar’s office scrambling to make sure that voters receive the correct ballots when they go to the polls Tuesday.

Diamond said that as of Tuesday afternoon just under 100 errors had been found and corrected, and his team will work until noon on Wednesday to root out any more remaining changes that may be necessary.

“All of the ones that we’re aware of have been corrected,” Diamond said.

The voters list that will be used by the poll workers will be finalized early Wednesday, and Diamond and his staff will begin Thursday morning entering that list into the voting devices that will be used at the polls.

The which-district-are-we-in confusion is a result of the redrawing of the county commission districts that was approved in 2021. Several areas and neighborhoods, like Hunter Bend, changed districts in that process. Tuesday’s election will be the first county commission election under the new district lines, so the mistakes were left undiscovered until Lunsford went knocking on doors.

“I had placed my signs in some of those areas because I knew I was working them based on that report,” Lunsford said.

His radar went off when he started seeing campaign signs for Derek Farr and Barry Johnson in the same areas. Farr and Johnson are competing for the District 4 seat and are not running against Lunsford.

Johnson had also done some door-to-door campaigning, and the two challengers realized that they had been to some of the same places – something that should not happen if the district addresses are correct.

“Barry and I got to talking, and he goes, ‘Man, we’re hitting some of the same territory,’” Lunsford said.

Once word got back to Diamond that these discrepancies existed, he contacted Lunsford late last week to find out the nature of the issue.

“I did some strong, hard due diligence and referred to records that were considered official records, and we found out they’re not necessarily officially correct,” Lunsford said. “And if I’m not running my campaign the way I’m running it, it never would have been uncovered.”

So how exactly will voters be impacted by this issue?

First of all, this is not considered a widespread problem. But Diamond encouraged voters to double check the new county commission map, which can be found on the Randolph County website at https://randolphcountyal.gov/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/Randolph-CC-Final-Plan-2021.pdf

That map can be zoomed in to street level and is color coded by district. Voters should go to the polls equipped with the knowledge of what district they live in.

Secondly, it’s important to note that no one’s polling place will change as a result of these mistakes and corrections.

“It’s not changing anyone’s voting location,” Diamond said. “It’s just changing the ballot that they will get at that location. And all voters should already know where they’re supposed to go.”

Thirdly, if voters arrive at their polling place and are given a ballot that shows a different district race than the one in which they live, they can point out the error to the poll workers and receive a provisional ballot with the correct race on it.

With such short notice to make corrections, Diamond said there may be still be some mistakes that slip through the cracks.

“Is the whole county perfect? I can’t say yes,” he conceded.

But he emphasized that there are failsafes in place should any remaining errors bleed into election day.

“We’re going to have a good, clean election like always,” he said. “If there are any bumps in the road we’re going to correct them, and voters will have the opportunity to cast their correct ballot.”

In a worst-case scenario that could involve a special election for the affected county commission seats. For example, if any of the races are close – say, within 50 votes to decide the winner – the losing party would conceivably have grounds to contest the election.

“If that margin has anything to do with the difference in the way these votes are relocated, either party could be able to contest this [election] based on the events that are transpiring as we speak,” Lunsford said.

If a race is contested the county would be on the hook to conduct what would amount to a re-vote to ensure every voter is voting for the correct race.