MANSFIELD, La. – Errors in a polling location list will have DeSoto Parish voters scrambling to new places to cast their ballots in the upcoming election. It’s something one parish election official said could undermine the integrity of not only the fall elections but could linger into the spring as well.
“This looks like a major screw up, in a country boy’s language,” DeSoto Parish Police Jury President Reggie Roe said at a recent meeting.
At issue are changes made to eight voting precincts in Mansfield and Stonewall. The changes were meant to be temporary and only done in what was supposed to be an off-election year and in preparation for the Police Jury’s reapportionment in response to the census count. But when the Legislature voted to put constitutional amendments on the fall ballot that caused parish election officials to go with the temporary changes.
The problem in DeSoto developed when an incorrect polling location list was approved along with the precinct changes. Who’s at fault resulted some finger-pointing at an at-times contentious meeting last week, with some denying responsibility and others accepting it.
However, the result will be confusion for voters in the affected precincts and likely violations of the state’s election law since some of those voters will be forced to drive beyond what is allowed to cast their ballots. There is some hope for a possible remedy this week, but it still will be too late to implement for the November and December elections.
“I can see this election contested and we’ll have egg all over our face. It’s too late to fix it,” said Roe, adding the changes give the perception to some, particularly the older voters, that people are intentionally being prevented from voting. “We’ve got a drastic situation here, people.”
Clerk of Court Jeremy Evans was on the hot seat during the meeting as District Attorney Charles Adams, who is legal counsel for the Police Jury, quizzed him about the polling location changes he signed off on and submitted to the Police Jury, which approved them during an Aug. 2 meeting. As at result of that vote, Registrar of Voters Amanda Raynes mailed post cards to voters affected by the changes.
Hundreds of voters called in complaints, Raynes said.
The Police Jury sought during a special meeting last week to correct the problem by reverting to the original polling locations for precincts 5, 6, 23, 31, 34, 38, 59 and 60. Evans called the changes a “technical correction.” Adams disagreed.
“The secretary of state does not agree this is a technical correction. This is changing polling places and they will not agree to us changing polling places this close to the election … even with the election being pushed back a month,” said Adams.
Evans said the polling locations were on an old list that demographer Mike Hefner was using. Adams countered that the Police Jury by “default or design” had allowed the clerk of court to designate the polling locations when in fact that’s a duty of the Police Jury.
Adams said the secretary of state’s office, the registrar of voters and Hefner had attempted to get in touch with Evans from April through May to update the polling locations but received no response from Evans. Hefner eventually had to track down Evans in June at a clerk’s convention in Baton Rouge, Adams said.
Evans said he gets “hundreds” of emails, so he did not see the communication from the SOS or ROV about the need to update the polling list. But he repeatedly said the errors were not intentional and he did meet with Hefner to make corrections.
“So, what this lack of accurate polling locations is causing is an absolute train wreck on voting in DeSoto Parish this cycle. … It’s not a technical correction; it’s an absolute change,” Adams said. “You can’t change at this date. We’re too far down the road.”
Evans said he responded to upset voters who called his office by telling them they would be reissued a card with the corrected locations.
But Raynes said that’s not possible and it’s not something she’s going to do, upon advice of the state attorney general. She said it would be illegal for her to do so since the 45-day deadline to make changes prior to the election was not lifted even though the fall election date was pushed back from October to November. She also corrected a Facebook post by Evans’ office that said there are no propositions on the December ballot. The town of Logansport has a liquor option election and the School Board a bond issue in the Stanley school district, she said.
Police Juror Greg Baker said 90 percent of his constituents vote in Precinct 23 at North DeSoto High School. But that was changed to Mission Point Baptist Church on the north end of Linwood. That would force some voters to drive 12 miles or more, which exceeds the 10-mile limit, he said.
“My people are gonna be pissed,” Baker said. “They are going to say they were not allowed to vote.”
Raynes stressed that if the polling locations are not corrected in a timely manner, then that also could affect the spring mayor’s election in Mansfield.
“That will be hot and contentious, or it can be,” she said. To the jurors, she added,” You changed (the polling locations) on Aug. 2. If they are changed again after the December election then again in early 2022, there’s some serious voter suppression concerns and voter concerns there for me as the registrar.”
“It’s caused a big problem for election integrity in DeSoto Parish,” Raynes said.
Evans asked police jurors for a few more days to make calls to the secretary of state and attorney general himself to see if he could get the changes approved. But even if he does, Raynes said her legal advice from the attorney general is to not implement them until after Dec. 13.
Baker accepted responsibility. “I failed by constituents by not reading the documents,” he said of the Aug. 2 vote.
“I don’t blame Amanda. I don’t blame Jeremy. … I blame me as a juror who did not read,” Baker added.