Effort to centralize voting rejected by Alexander Co. officials

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

CAIRO, Ill. -- Alexander County commissioners Tuesday rejected a petition signed by more than 600 residents calling for centralized voting in Cairo on Nov. 7.

Petitioners from Concerned Citizens for the Recovery of Cairo sought the change to reduce or eliminate potential problems that in the past have resulted in lawsuits over election outcomes. The lawsuits, some of which are still pending, have alleged that vote totals have been manipulated to help favored candidates.

"The people who have access to the ballots are the people who control this thing," said Flora Chambliss, leader of the CCRC. "Any way of changing the way votes come out, they do."

The signatures were gathered in a little over a month since the commissioners voted 2-to-1 in August to conduct voting in each of the five precincts in Cairo.

At Tuesday's meeting, Angela Greenwell, a Republican, supported the change, but Democrat Rollie Matlock opposed the idea. Louis McRoy, chairman of the commission, was absent.

Matlock was joined in his opposition by Duane "Street Preacher" Lyon, the Democratic nominee for McRoy's seat in the Nov. 7 election. He faces Republican Mike Caldwell.

"I respect their zeal," Lyon told the commissioners. "But the decision should not be based on the convenience of election workers or the costs to the county."

Moving the polls to one location, he said, would "dilute" the vote by making it more difficult for elderly, disabled and those without adequate transportation to reach the polls.

Political candidates would make sure voters reached the polls, supporters of the proposal countered.

And centralized voting will concentrate the county's limited number of election judges in one location, making it easier to monitor problems, Greenwell said. "One reason I feel strongly that it should be done in one place is the fraudulent voting in the past," she said. "We've had people selling their votes in the hallway of the high school."

Matlock dismissed the petition as not representative of the sentiment of voters. The more than 600 signatures represent about 25 percent of the registered voters in Cairo.

"That is only a quarter of the people," Matlock said. "There are a lot more people than that."

The proposal would not have changed any voting sites outside of Cairo. Centralized voting at the old junior high school during the March election went well, County Clerk Kent Thomas said. Turnout in the March election was higher than turnout at the primaries in 2000 or 2002, he said. Figures for the 2004 election could not be located, he said.

State's Attorney Jeff Farris, responding to questions from commissioners, said centralized voting could lead to a lawsuit over access to the polls. "I would hate for you to expose yourself to legal action for making it more difficult to vote."

After the commission meeting, Chambliss said she's not going to stop her push for centralized voting. "Unless the people have a voice in this it is going to be difficult to bring Cairo back," she said.


335-6611, extension 126

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