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Absentee ballots at center of inquiry (AL)
District attorney investigating election
Ledger-Inquirer, June 5, 2008, BY JERRY F. RUTLEDGE

Russell County District Attorney Ken Davis has subpoenaed absentee ballots from Tuesday's primary election after receiving complaints about the balloting.

Davis would not say Wednesday which or how many races he is investigating, but the focus of most discussion was the Russell County Commission District 4 race, in which former Commissioner Ronnie Reed scored a 100-vote victory with 80 percent of his vote total in absentee ballots.

Reed, 54, scored a 252-152 victory over former Commissioner Isaiah Sumbry, his nearest competitor in the four-man race. Of his 252 votes, 201 were voted absentee.

"We have had complaints about absentee ballots from yesterday's election," Davis said Wednesday. "Those complaints have come from several sources. I have subpoenaed from the sheriff the ballots and have them in my possession. They are sealed. We're filing a motion with the Circuit Court of Russell County, Judge George Greene, to allow us to inspect ballots. That's all I can say about it at this point."

Reed said he was thankful to the voters for giving him another opportunity to serve since his first term was aborted by an Alabama Supreme Court ruling after he failed to regain his political rights, which were lost because of his 1978 burglary conviction in Muscogee County.

"I just want to continue to move Russell County forward, from where we left off," Reed said.

The commissioner-elect said he came by the large number of absentee ballots through working the district.

"We went door-to-door passing out literature, flyers and stuff," he said. "Some were going out of town. Some were working long hours. And some were sick and couldn't even get to the polls. Some didn't even have legs.

"Those absentee ballots came from all over the district, not just one place. Not in just one special area. And it was not just one special ethnic group. There were white, black and people from all walks of life voting absentee."

Sumbry said earlier Wednesday he had not decided to contest the election but would welcome an investigation by the district attorney.

"Hopefully, the district attorney will look into the issue," he said. "I'm quite sure that the many constituents of District 4 are going to be concerned about the way the election in this particular district was held. I've never seen anything like this. It's a sad day for Russell County when something like this can take place."

Incumbent Commissioner Johnnie C. Robinson, who finished third in the race with 53 votes two absentee said he wasn't surprised to know Reed had so many absentee ballots.

"I was told on election day that it was about 160 by one of the other candidates, and my response was 'Well, if that's what he's got, that's what he'll have. It is what it is,' " Robinson said. "But at that point in time, what could you do?"

Robinson said he would not challenge the race. "I've seen him in the neighborhood, stumping the neighborhood going from door-to-door. Personally, I don't question it because, if they are registered voters and that's what the probate judge and the voter registration people have to determine and they gave him a sealed envelope to turn in, then it is what it is."

Absentee ballot abuse is a familiar issue in Russell County. Six years ago, former Commissioner Nathaniel Gosha was convicted of 25 felony and 12 misdemeanor voter fraud charges resulting from a run for the Phenix City Council. Gosha was sentenced to 90 days in jail, plus probation.

Contact Jerry Rutledge at 706-320-4405


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