“Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.”
–Franklin Delano Roosevelt
The 32nd President of the United States had a point when he uttered the words that begin this story: if you’re going to vote, you ought to know what you’re voting for, or what you’re voting against, who you’re pulling the lever for, and who you want to trust with your tax money and your hope. Of course, one of FDR’s contemporaries, Winston Churchill, also had a point when he said that “the best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter.”
So, operating on the theory that the Weld reader wants to be above average, we are hereby offering for you a primer designed to make your participation in this federal constitutional republic and representative democracy – which is technically what these United States are – as stress-free as possible. You, of course, bear the responsibility for your choices.
Where you vote
Exactly where you go to vote depends on where you live. There are 180 precincts in Jefferson County, according to Jefferson County Probate Judge Alan L. King, who happens to be the county’s chief of elections. The precincts sit in 5 districts, each of which elects (but not this year) a county commissioner.
The Jefferson County Board of Registrars maintains a list and can tell you where to vote. Call (205) 325-5550.
To vote in Alabama, you have to be 18 or older, a citizen of the U.S., and not be disqualified by a felony conviction or a declaration by a court that you are mentally incompetent (no matter who else questions your sanity, you can vote until a judge says otherwise).
You would have to register as a voter, which the Jefferson County Board of Registrars makes pretty easy by maintaining several registration locations throughout the county, ranging from the downtown courthouse to libraries all over the place. For a complete listing, visit http://jeffconline.jccal.org/bor/main/bor-locs.html
That having been said, if you haven’t registered by the cover date of this issue, November 1, you’re too late to vote in the November 6 election unless you’re using a previously requested absentee ballot. As noted on the website of the Alabama Secretary of State, registration closes 10 days before the election. http://www.sos.alabama.gov/elections/VoterRegistrationInfo.aspx
Probably the best place online to learn everything you want to know about the who, what, when, where, and why of voting is the very detailed website maintained by Alabama Secretary of State Beth Chapman. Among the great bits of information to be found there is the 2012 Alabama Voter Guide, which you can access at http://www.sos.alabama.gov/downloads/election/2012/2012VoterGuide.pdf
Another good place to look for information: http://elections.mytimetovote.com/alabama.html
These days, Jefferson County’s economic woes are the stuff of legend (you know, being the largest municipal bankruptcy in the history of America and all), but Judge King says that voters don’t need to worry: everything is ready for you to cast your ballot.
“I don’t believe voters will see any changes at the polling precincts,” King said last week. “The election is fully funded.”
The county had to make some changes from previous years, like getting voting machines delivered to polling places by the Roads and Transportation division instead of General Services. And while the county was divided into 35-36 zones for the sake of poll administration in previous elections, the smaller staff of county officials necessitated making the zones bigger for this election. “We will have 15 zones with 12 precincts in each,” King says.
Staffing the election will be more than 1800 poll workers staffing polling places throughout the county.
This week, the county is holding election schools for poll workers at several locations, making sure the folks who run the polling locations know how to handle every possible scenario. “One thing we explain and teach poll workers is to turn on all your machines and use all your machines,” King says, noting that following that procedure guarantees that any problems with the machines will come to light early enough to get them fixed. “We want to know early in the day that all machines are operating properly.”
Does that mean you need to worry that your vote will somehow be lost by a malfunctioning voting machine? Not according to King. The worst malfunction he expects would be mechanical –if your ballot jams in the machine. Every vote that makes it into the machine will be electronically counted, tallied and tabulated – and saved on removable memory.
“Every memory card is retrieved on election night and stored in the election vault,” King says. “We don’t leave until all memory cards are retrieved.”
In the basement of the courthouse, in the middle of the building, is the election day support room, King says. “We have, at any one time during the day, 8-10 people answering phones and dispatching” county employees to troubleshoot election issues as they happen. While polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m., the war room of the county election machinery opens at 6 a.m. and remains open until the votes are all in – which may be after midnight with a presidential election involved.
Wednesday at 10 a.m., King will convene a meeting of candidates in his courtroom to make sure they know the status of preparations for the election. In a word, King is confident that the county is ready for the onslaught of voters. “I feel good about it,” he says.
This year, aside from the two major presidential candidates, there are lesser known (and virtually hopeless) independents who made the ballot: Constitution Party Virgil H.Goode, Jr. and his vice-presidential running mate James N. Clymer; Libertarian Gary Johnson and his running mate Jim Gray; and Green Party nominee Jill Stein and her running mate Cheri Honkala.
Among the most hotly contested campaigns in the state may be the race for Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court between Democrat Bob Vance and the always controversial Republican Roy Moore, both seeking to replace outgoing Supreme Court Justice Charles R.Malone, a former Tuscaloosa judge appointed to the high court by Gov. Robert Bentley in 2011.
The Public Service Commission President race pits Republican challenger Twinkle Cavanaugh against the incumbent (and last Democrat holding statewide office) Lucy Baxley.
And longtime member of the U.S. House of Representatives, 10-term Republican Congressman Spencer Bachus, is facing a Sixth District challenge from lesser-known Democrat and retired Air Force colonel Penny Bailey. (Note: she’s listed on the ballot as Penny “Colonel” Bailey, as if it were a fun nickname instead of, you know, her title.)
There are also a large number of candidates running unopposed in Alabama, including several local constables and appellate court judges. That includes current or would-be Supreme Court justices such as Republicans Tommy Bryan ( place 1), Lyn Stuart (incumbent in place 2), Glenn Murdock ( incumbent in place 3), and Jim Main (incumbent in place 4).
Several other judges are also running unopposed: Republicans Craig Pittman (Court of Civil Appeals, place 1), Terri Willingham Thomas (Court of Civil Appeals, place 2), Terry A. Moore (Court of Civil Appeals, place 3); Sam Welch (Court of Criminal Appeals, place 1), Liles Burke (Court of Criminal Appeals, place 2), and J. Michael Joiner (Court of Criminal Appeals, place 3).
Four of 12 Jefferson County Circuit Court judge races (10th Judicial Circuit) have unopposed candidates who are already seated on the bench: Republicans Joseph L. Boohaker and Teresa Tanner Pulliam and Democrats Michael G. Graffeo and Houston L. Brown.
Weld asked the major political parties to identify the most important issues in the race.
Weld: What do you believe are the top three most important issues facing voters in Alabama this year?
Democratic Party Executive Director Bradley Davidson: “We believe that at the forefront of most voters’ minds is the economic outlook for their households. Alabama still ranks near the bottom regarding most quality of life indicators and while we have seen improvement in some areas in the last decade, those upticks have not been shared broadly across the state. Additionally, investments that we have traditionally viewed as ladders into the middle class such as higher education are becoming more and more out of reach of working families as the cost of college has skyrocketed.
“For the thousands of Alabamians who require access to justice each year (and for the state’s image), it is imperative that we elect Judge Bob Vance as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. Judge Vance has run a campaign focused on the actual issues that are challenging our court system and is clearly the best person for the job. Alabama’s reputation doesn’t need another knock by sending Roy Moore back to the highest judicial seat in our state.
“Third, voters continue to tell us that they are becoming more and more uneasy with how the state is being governed after Republicans took control of all three branches of state government in 2010…we must slow that momentum and we believe that is happening. The Republican Party almost took the state to the brink of financial disaster by having the voters do their jobs for them and voting to save Medicaid and other state services last month. We expect that kind of disregard for the public good to continue while the Republican supermajority continues to run the legislature and Governor Bentley continues to show lackluster leadership at best. Alabama needs leaders who take the long view, not those whose disdain for some almost forces doctors and dentists out of the state and the closure of our rural hospitals.”
Republican Party Chairman Bill Armistead: “Jobs and the economy are clearly the most important issues facing and effecting Alabamians.
“The second most important issue, in my mind and the minds of my fellow conservatives, is a return to traditional values as a core, guiding principle for government. This past summer, Americans watched as one of the two major political parties in this country attempted to remove the word “God” from their parties platform. In that same declaration of their values, they embraced support for gay marriage and the use of taxpayer funds for abortions. This Democratic Party led by Barack Obama and his liberal allies in Washington and Montgomery is not the party that folks my parents’ age and my grandparents’ age grew up in and respected. By voting a straight Republican ballot, conservatives in Alabama have a chance to make their voices heard and that we want a return to traditional values and that we reject the assault by Barack Obama and the Democrats on what we hold dear.
“Third, Alabamians are sick and tired of the status quo and the good old boy network that runs so many of our Courthouses across the state. For far too long, members of these communities got preferential treatment or used their influence within the Courthouse to profit themselves. As I travel the state, I hear that time and again. It is time for some fresh faces and new ideas to take charge and truly serve the public that elected them fairly and equally with respect to all our citizens regardless of their status in life.”
For a complete ballot showing all the candidates, as well as details on all the amendments being considered to add further length to the longest constitution in the universe – the 1901 vintage Alabama Constitution — click here.