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“Mass chaos” redistricting error leaves Etowah County candidates in the lurch

Secretary of State John Merrill says it is up to the Republican Party to decide where to go from here.

STOCK

Steve Reagan was incredulous Tuesday when a poll worker handed him his ballot. He scanned down the list of races until his eyes settled on the local House District 29 race.

Except Reagan doesn’t live in House District 29, at least not according to information he received when he was disqualified to run for the seat earlier this year.

“I just looked at him and said ‘What the crap?’” Reagan said. “If you’re not going to let me run in 29, why am I being forced to vote in 29?”

The reality is that Reagan had received an incorrect ballot, and he wasn’t alone. The Secretary of State’s Office and Etowah County Probate Judge’s Office released a joint statement Thursday noting the redistricting error that had “negatively impacted” candidates and voters in House Districts 28 and 29.

“Ever since it’s been mass chaos,” Reagan said.

The mistake wasn’t just caught on Election Day, though. Near the end of April, House District 28 candidate Mack Butler’s sister went to vote absentee for her brother, only to find the House District 29 race instead. So she contacted the Etowah County Board of Registrars and the Secretary of State.

“Upon learning of this voter being assigned to the wrong district, the Etowah County Board of Registrars were instructed to begin taking action to correct the problem by assigning voters to their proper districts as required by state law,” the joint statement said. “Registrars from other counties and employees of the Secretary of State’s office offered advice and guidance as to how to make the needed corrections. The members of the Etowah County Board of Registrars are the only people authorized by Alabama law to make the changes.

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“It was discovered during the May 24 Primary Election that the problem had not been corrected and this negatively impacted both the candidates and voters in House Districts 28 and 29. At this point, it is unknown how many voters were directly affected.”

Statewide races were unaffected, but the House races and two commissioner races were tainted by the error.

As of Tuesday, Make Butler led incumbent District 28 Rep. Gil Isbell by 202 votes. In District 29, Mark Gidley led Jamie Grant by 82 votes.

Secretary of State John Merrill says it is up to the Republican Party to decide where to go from here.

“If the party decided what we’re going to do is pick all the people running as Republicans across the state., they could do that,” Merrill said. “Prior to 1982, they didn’t hold a vote. They don’t have to have a primary. The executive committee could pick people.”

ALGOP Chairman John Wahl said the party is trying to figure out what to do in the unusual dillemma.

“We are incredibly upset about the situation, which impacts both our Republican primary voters and our Republican candidates,” Wahl said. “Our number one priority is to make sure the will of Republican primary voters is reflected in the outcome of these elections. We are investigating precisely which areas have been impacted, how many votes have been affected and what remedy there is moving forward. We will do the best we possibly can in order to find a solution to this terrible situation we’re facing.”

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Merrill said the investigation is ongoing and further information will be provided once a full determination is made as to what caused the error. Merrill said the main focus is to correct the error ahead of the upcoming June 21 runoff.

Jacob Holmes is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected]

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