Friday, July 2, 2010

Crisfield Election Investigated

CRISFIELD -- The U.S. Justice Department is expected to begin its own investigation into the recent Crisfield election following allegations that improper and illegal voting procedures may have been used.

The ACLU of Maryland has started its own probe into the matter, and a representative met with as many as 20 concerned residents last week in Crisfield, said Deborah Jeon, an attorney for the civil rights group.

Jeon said city elections officials turned away a number of potential voters without giving them provisional ballots.

It wasn't until late in the afternoon that provisional ballots were given to people whose names could not be immediately verified as being registered voters, she said.

Jeon said, at this point, she is unsure of the number of people who were turned away.

"We're still in the process of investigating," she said.

Within days of the June 16 election, the American Civil Liberties Union detailed a number of alleged irregularities, including unlawful voter identification requirements and the failure to offer rejected voters a provisional ballot, which the group said appeared to have disproportionately affected African-American voters.

The ACLU said it was acting on behalf of mayoral candidate James Lane and several African-American voters.

Lane, who lost the election to incumbent Percy Purnell, said he knows people who were turned away or who witnessed improprieties.

"We feel very strongly there are some very serious problems," he said.

Robin Cockey, the city's attorney, said he was unaware the Justice Department planned to launch an investigation.

"That's interesting and surprising," he said. "I didn't know the ACLU thought this was still a viable issue."

Cockey said he is still in the process of conducting his own investigation, but believes the ACLU's allegations are unfounded.

When city elections officials could not find names on their lists, they called the county election office in Princess Anne for verification. Those who were registered were allowed to vote, but those who were unregistered were turned away, he said.

After the county office closed, city poll workers gave out provisional ballots to people whose names were not on the list.

"The bottom line is, anyone who was registered to vote and who wanted to vote was able to vote," he said.

This week, city elections officials verified and opened the remaining 17 provisional ballots filed during the election.

While all 17 were verified to be registered voters, one ballot was left blank, said Joyce Morgan, the city's clerk-treasurer, who was present along with election board members when the ballots were opened Wednesday.

Candidates in the election were notified that the ballots would be opened Wednesday, but none showed up, Morgan said.

With the opening of the provisional ballots, all of the candidates, except one, picked up additional votes.

In the mayor's race, incumbent Percy Purnell received 5 votes and challenger James Lane, 11.

Votes cast for City Council were Raymond Anderson, 5; Barry Dize, 4; Robert Hooks, 2; Jordan Joyner, 4; Kim Lawson, 5; Carolyn Marquis, 4; Greg Sterling, 3; and Pamela Whittington, 10.

Three incumbent City Council members --Raymond Anderson, Barry Dize and Kim Lawson, who were elected with Purnell in 2006 as part of the Clean Sweep Team --were the winners for their at-large seats.

Purnell, Anderson, Dize and Lawson are scheduled to be sworn-in for their second terms July 12.

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