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Election ‘irregularities’ being resolved

Staff writer

Hours of painstaking research will be required to determine whether more than a quarter of those who received ballots for a drainage district election last month actually were qualified to receive them.

“The voting district boundaries will be looked at to be sure everything matches up in the future,” county clerk Tina Spencer said Friday.

Included will be painstaking research of legal documents that established the boundaries of the district and comparison of those boundaries to legal descriptions of properties on tax rolls and residents’ addresses in the county’s voter registration system.

“The voting district boundaries and tax unit boundaries should be aligned,” Spencer said.

That means that if it was appropriate to give ballots to the more than two dozen questioned voters, they may have to start paying the 3.306 mills in property taxes charged by the district.

“In my position, I must defend and champion fair and accurate elections,” Spencer said. “When there is a relevant concern and/or problem raised, such as the question about the boundaries, I will address it properly and make corrections when problems exist.

“I will always do my best to defend the integrity of the electoral process and ensure that the rights of the citizens are protected. I also want to be sure to serve the taxpayers by verifying that taxation is correct and accurate.”

The questions Spencer must deal with are by no means simple.

Most of the concern focuses on odd-numbered addresses on the west side of Elm St. and the west side of the 500 and 600 blocks of S. Lincoln St. in Marion.

Residents there have property that, for the most part, extends to Luta Creek and, as such, could be considered part of Cottonwood Valley Drainage District, which encompasses Marion’s valley.

None of these properties currently are taxed as being within the district, but nearly two dozen residents who live on those properties received ballots to vote in the election.

Further confusing the matter is a vague requirement in state law giving the right to vote not just to residents of the district but also to owners of property within the district even if they don’t live there.

Property ownership is not required of registered voters who live within the district, Spencer emphasized.

Among those who received ballots were Marion mayor David Mayfield and his wife, Jami. They reside on land that does not touch Luta Creek, but they also own an immediately adjacent piece of land that does touch the creek.

Neither piece of property is listed as paying taxes to the district.

Even more confusing is the case of retired funeral director Ty Zeiner, who received a ballot because of his former address on the west side of Elm St.

The property extends to the center of Luta Creek, but he no longer owns it or lives there, and the property isn’t listed as being charged taxes by the district. Still, he is registered to vote, and he does own other property within the valley that does pay taxes to the district.

Although it wouldn’t clear up all problems, Spencer pointed out that voters always should re-register or update their information when they move.

Property owned not by individuals but by organizations poses additional challenges.

State law clearly states that government-owned property and such things as ownership of mineral rights do not merit a ballot. But the law is largely silent on what to do in other cases.

Ballots were issued to both Marion Auto Supply Inc. and to Valley United Methodist Church. Both own property properly coded to pay taxes to the district, although the church is tax-exempt.

One of Marion Auto’s owners is listed as having received Marion Auto’s ballot, but the official list of voters does not state who received the ballot for Valley Church.

If any sort of ownership interest merits a ballot, husbands and wives might both get votes if both of their names are on the deed.

But when no individual is named on the deed, or the deed is still in the name of a deceased taxpayer, who decides who gets the vote or whether more than one person with an ownership stake might be allowed to claim a ballot?

These are among the additional questions that still need investigating although Spencer isn’t the one who will be doing that investigating.

“This is really a legal matter,” she said. “I have no statutory authority over it and will not really be digging into it that much. My focus will be on the boundaries.”

Spencer expressed concern after reading last week’s story that casual readers might somehow believe because of the term “irregularities” that ballots had been tampered with to impact the outcome of the election.

“In this day and age, the chosen headline could potentially lead someone to believe that the ballots themselves were tampered with, contained irregularities, or were mishandled,” she told the Record. “Obviously, no ballots were examined (nor would it have been legal to do so) in your investigation.

“‘District boundaries questioned’ would have been an accurate headline.  But that is not the way of the world today, and it certainly wouldn’t have attracted as much attention as one using the popular buzzwords that are common in this political climate.”

In the election itself, only two candidates had filed for three available positions as directors. The third winner was the top vote-getter among write-ins. All three were incumbents.

Last modified Dec. 23, 2021

 

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