My perspective on vote centers

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My perspective on vote centers

Over the last decade, I have served the citizens of Madison County previously as the county treasurer, and currently as the president of the county commissioners.

During that time, I have been extremely disappointed to have often witnessed an unbelievable lack of civility among Madison County elected officials.

In fact, on May 1 I penned a letter to the county councilmen expressing my desire to take Madison County in a new direction, where open communication, collaboration, compromise and courteousness rule the day.

Unfortunately, Madison County Clerk Olivia Pratt’s recent comments in other local media regarding our decision not to approve her vote center proposal are just another example of the absence of all four of these virtues in Madison County government.

It is painful for me to write this viewpoint, because I like Olivia Pratt, and I think she has done a good job as clerk. However, I simply can’t let her and the other election board members’ attacks on the character of Commissioner Mike Phipps and me go unchallenged.

First of all, on July 22, 2019, both Mike Phipps and I enthusiastically supported the election board’s request, as presented by Pratt, to buy 170 new voting machines, because our current machines did not produce a paper record of each vote in addition to the electronic count, which is federally mandated by 2029.

Commissioner Richwine expressed concern that the election board had not included him in the process, so we asked the board to address his concerns over the next two weeks and passed their request unanimously at our Aug. 12 meeting.

At neither of these meetings did Pratt or the other two election board members, Russ Willis and Ludy Watkins, announce to us that they planned to adopt vote centers for the 2020 primary election. In fact, County Administrator Tim Westerfield asked Pratt at the Aug. 12 meeting whether or not 170 machines would be enough, if the election board decided to use vote centers in the future.

Pratt responded, “We may need to order a few more, but not up to 400 more by any means.”

This clearly rebuts her claim that Commissioner Phipps and I were aware that the election board planned to implement vote centers for the 2020 primary. Citizens can watch the meeting videos on the county website to verify this for themselves.

Furthermore, Pratt has admitted in her public statements that the board didn’t begin working on their vote center plan until November 2019 and decided not to bring it to the public until it was complete.

Next, let’s compare the current attempt to implement vote centers to the process followed in 2013 when a previous election board attempted the same task. Readers can search local media archives to find articles printed in June, September and October of that year, which show that the prior election board started the process nearly a year before the 2014 primary election with a bipartisan commission of citizens and elected officials and public meetings around the county.

That process was abruptly stopped by Democratic county chairman Ludy Watkins, when she joined the election board in September 2013. Since the process requires a unanimous vote of the election board, the issue has been dead until Watkins suddenly changed her vote on Jan. 28, 2020, just 36 days before the state deadline to change during an election year.

When the election board follows a timely, transparent, inclusive process, they will have my support for vote centers. The bigger question, however, is when will county officials begin to communicate, collaborate, compromise and behave courteously toward each other?