Bentley disputing primary recount methods

Published 4:17 pm Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Republican gubernatorial candidate is asking state election officials to stop hand-counting undervotes during a statewide recount of votes cast during the June 1 Republican Primary election.

Dr. Robert Bentley, a Columbiana native who will appear on the gubernatorial Republican primary runoff ballot July 13 against Bradley Byrne, asked the state to stop hand-counting the undervotes in a June 15 press release.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim James requested a recount of all votes cast for the governor’s race in his party’s June 1 primary election one day after state election officials announced he received the third-most votes during the primary election.

During the recount, election officials in every Alabama county will feed every ballot cast during the June 1 primary through a counting machine.

However, Shelby County Republican officials are expecting the machine to reject about 265 county ballots because the ballots contain undervotes. Undervotes occur when the ballot contains valid votes, but no vote for one of the gubernatorial candidates.

When the machine registers an undervote, it rejects the ballot and does not count it. Election officials then place the rejected ballot into a separate crate, which is emptied after each precinct is counted by the voting machine.

When the crate is emptied, representatives from the James, Bentley and Byrne campaigns then check each rejected ballot to ensure the voter did not vote for a gubernatorial candidate.

If the three campaign representatives cannot agree while verifying the ballot, the Alabama Republican Party Executive Committee will review and verify the ballot in question.

Because the rejected ballots are not verified by certified election officials, Bentley’s campaign has protested the verification method.

“Today the Bentley campaign calls for an immediate halt to the hand counting of undervotes, considered by election law experts to be the go-to method for a defeated candidate to steal an election in a recount,” Bryan Sanders, Bentley’s campaign manager, wrote in a press release.

“Any discrepancies between the total number of votes cast in the recount and cast on election night need to be fully explained and understood and must not include hand counted undervotes or it will be impossible to have any confidence in the accuracy of the recount,” Sanders added.

However, Shelby County Probate Court Chief Clerk Kimberly Melton said the Probate Court has notified all three campaigns of the county’s recount, which is set to begin June 16 at 1:30 p.m. at the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office Training Center on McDow Road in Columbiana.

“We have notified every campaign, and welcomed them to send representatives to verify the undervotes,” Melton said. “Any of them could send representatives to verify the undervotes during the recount.”