Students denied a vote

Mishandled registration cards nowhere to be found

By Leah Cooper, Managing Editor
On November 6, 2008

When sophomore Jayna Hampton went to cast her ballot for president, she was surprised to find she was not registered to vote.

Hampton, like several other students, said she registered with the College Republicans during a drive on campus and was given a receipt. However, she and other puzzled students soon discovered the Tom Green County Elections Office had no record of them registering.

Would-be voters, who were not listed as registered, like Hampton, were allowed to vote provisionally. This means their provisional vote is kept separate from the others and is counted only if the person is determined at a later time to be registered.

One precinct official said there had been at least 30 people who had to vote provisionally Tuesday. In past elections, he said, there were about five.

"I was actually pretty upset because I really wanted to vote. But the people at the elections office were really nice and helped me out," Hampton said.

Vona McKerley, Tom Green County elections administrator, said she personally helped three or four ASU students who had registered on campus and whose voter registration cards could not be located. The office made a copy of the receipts, which verify that the voter had actually registered.

Jeff Harris of the College Republicans and Manny Campos of the Young Democrats are certified deputy voter registrars who are

specifically trained to help people register correctly. A DVR is under legal obligation to hand over all completed cards to the elections office within five days in order to avoid a misdemeanor.

It is still yet to be determined when and where the problems occurred, according to McKerley. She said she plans to fully investigate the matter next week to see where and when the problem occurred.

"Six or seven people out of the 200 we registered here on campus... that's not saying to me that we didn't turn in a block of 50 of them," Harris said. "That's saying that we had some shuffle between the cracks... Where did they go?"

Campos said he cannot speak for any other DVR, but he followed proper procedure for turning in the cards.

Harris said he did run into some problems when he turned in the cards.

"...It was a mess," Harris said. "They were missing stamps on dates and stuff like that, and I had to actually stop them and say 'Here, this is it.' It's not the most organized office," Harris said.

Harris said the election office would not accept the voter registration cards without the log, a list of all the people from whom the registrar collected cards.

"We kept extremely organized records of everything that we did," Harris said. "When you turn these things in you actually have to fill out an itemized list producing each individual voter card."

According to Harris, when he handed over the cards to the election office and they signed off that all the people on the log matched the cards turned in, it was out of his hands.

McKerley, because of the number of ASU students who had problems voting before election day, sent a letter to every deputy registrar in San Angelo urging them to turn in any completed cards by Oct. 31 to avoid penalization. The unsigned, undated letter was not on letterhead and was postmarked Oct. 30. Harris said he did not receive the letter until Nov. 1.

Harris said he has worked in law enforcement before and knows the serious consequences of withholding voter registration cards. He also said he plans to show the letter to the county judge as it was "unprofessional" and "threatening."

"I did intend for it to be taken very seriously," McKerley said.

According to McKerley, she wanted to make it clear that the deputy registrars could be in violation of the law if they withheld any cards, intentionally or not.

"They can't produce any evidence to show me that I actually did not turn this in," Harris said.

When Harris registered students to vote, he gave a receipt to the voter and stapled a copy of the receipt to the card and turned those in to the elections office along with a log of all the people he registered.

"I'm not going to sit here and take blame for something that I didn't do," Harris said. "If it was me, you bet I would step up and say 'That's my fault.' There's no way we are going to risk any Class C misdemeanor or Class A for intentionally not turning them in."

In the county elections office, one worker said it is possible the cards are lost in the office.

The elections office should not have sent the letter until they know for sure, Harris said.

Harris said the elections office will not be able to say with any certainty he or any other DVR intentionally withheld registration cards.

"Even if they did follow through with this, there's not a single one of us that they could actually pin anything on, because no attorneys in their right mind would pick up the case," Harris said.

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