Smith just short to prevent sheriff's runoff

By ED HOWELL
Posted 6/13/18

A runoff on July 17 will still be held in the Walker County sheriff's race after a methodical recount of the provisionals from the June 5 Republican primary showed candidate Nick Smith came up just …

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Smith just short to prevent sheriff's runoff

Posted

A runoff on July 17 will still be held in the Walker County sheriff's race after a methodical recount of the provisionals from the June 5 Republican primary showed candidate Nick Smith came up just short of the needed votes to reach over the 50 percent mark. 

After a 90-minute recount by county officials, the official votes show 12 GOP provisional ballots were added to the count, which was also made official a week after the primary. No Democratic provisional ballots were counted. 

The official results in the sheriff's race showed Smith, the current police chief of Cordova, had 7,265 votes, or 49.98 percent, while the current sheriff, James "Jim" Underwood, had 6,620 votes, or 45.55 percent. Steven Shaver, who has endorsed Smith since the primary, had 650 votes, of 4.47 percent. 

Provisionals votes are cast on Election Day when people don't have the proper ID or if they have moved without alerting the registrars, or other reasons that would put the vote in dispute. Provisional votes are counted a week later, making the overall vote official and allowing time for the disputes involved to be cleared up. In the end, the Board of Registrars sometimes rules against the voter in the dispute, meaning it is not counted. 

Out of 35 provisional ballots cast, 12 were approved by the Walker County Board of Registrars as being approved to be counted, while the rest were rejected. The 35 possible provisional ballots had been stored in the Circuit Clerk's Office since Tuesday's election, as the Walker County Republican Party Chairwoman Linda Ensor had demanded they not be taken by the Sheriff's Office on election night due to the sheriff's contest. 

On the 12 ballots, Smith picked up seven votes, or 63.64 percent of the provisionals, while Underwood had three votes, or 27.27 percent, while Shaver had 1 vote, representing 9.09 percent of the provisionals. One ballot cast no votes in the sheriff's race. 

All of the votes together added up to 14,535, and divided in half, 50 percent would equal 7,267.5 — compared to Smith's 7,265. 

The counting took place noon Tuesday in the Probate Judge's Office, with 46 boxes brought into the office by deputies. Candidates, media and lawyers were allowed to observe on the north end of the room, closest to an entrance door, while Probate Judge Rick Allison presided over the count at a table. Relatives of candidates and other observers were not allowed in the room at all. 

Allison said that the privacy of the ballots were still a priority, as they would be at the poll, and said no cameras could be used in the room, ending a Facebook live stream that had been started by the Daily Mountain Eagle. No names of voters were mentioned during the recount. 

Ensor and Shirley Mitchell, representing the Walker County Democratic Party, participated in the count at the conference table, as did Walker County Circuit Clerk Susan Odom, a representative of the Sheriff's Department and two employees of the Probate Judge's Office.  All did their own tally as Allison called out numbers, sometimes asking him to slow down or make sure that races were not overlooked. 

Underwood stood at the entrance door throughout the proceedings, while Smith sat on a bench on the north end of the room. Both said nothing throughout the proceedings. 

Attorneys Nicholas Sparks and Charles Tatum were also seen sitting on the bench, as well as a reporters from the Eagle and ABC 33/40. Deputies from the Sheriff's Office were also on hand. 

The slow, deliberate process involved going through envelopes and paperwork in each beat to see if any provisionals were counted. Once ballots were found, the corresponding box was opened and the votes throughout the entire ballot were read. 

Votes were added throughout the Republican totals. In the District 14 Alabama House of Representatives race, Richard "Bull" Corry, who won the county but lost the overall race, gained three votes, while state Rep. Tim Wadsworth (who won the overall district totals) got two votes. In the Walker County probate judge's race, A. Lee Tucker gained five votes, while Dayron Bridges and John Mark Dutton gained two votes; Dutton and Tucker are headed for a runoff. 

In the county superintendent of education race, incumbent Jason Adkins gained eight votes, while Joel Hagood (the eventual winner) garnered four votes. In the county school board District 3 race, Vonda Beaty, who won the race, got an extra vote, while incumbent board member Bill Ed Gilbert got four more votes. In District 1, David Miller got an extra vote, while the winner, Trent Kennedy, got no more votes. 

The additional votes did not change the outcome of any of the local races, in the end. 

After the count was concluded, Smith said, "I just want to give God all the glory. Without Him I wouldn't be where I am at today. I want to thank all the voters who voted for me. I think it was 7,000-plus. We were just shy of two votes to avoid a runoff, which I am very excited about. I just need everybody to keep that same energy and motivation and get back out and vote. If this doesn't show you that every vote does matter, it does matter. Your vote matters. Your vote is very important, and your vote is very important to me.

"I need those communities to get out. Cordova and Parrish really showed up for me in the last election. I need all those county boxes to show up and show out for me on July 17. I know Parrish really showed up and showed out because they know me better than anybody in this county. i just need the rest of the county to believe in me the way Parrish and Cordova believe in me." 

Underwood said, "I'm very excited about the results ... I'm glad to still be in the race. Apparently we've got to work a little harder than we have in the past. I appreciate all my supporters. I ask them to continue working hard. It is a new day in Walker County. We got to keep a professional sheriff's department and keep these outside sources from trying to direct our elections in Walker County, and let our own people decide who will be the sheriff and keep corruption out of this county. Thank you very much." 

For his part, Allison, who is retiring after this year, said the county process went as it always does, only with more observers. "Usually nobody is here. Our job is easy — just opening envelopes and calling it out," he said. "We just go by what has been determined." 

He said he knew "everyone was on pins and needles. I sympathize with them. I've been there before. I can assure them we've done everything we're supposed to do." 

Ensor said, "The process went very smoothly. The integrity of the election was there. We didn't have to wonder about the ballots. We had those secured. I am very happy with the outcome. We do have a runoff in the sheriff's race. We look forward to July 17."

Odom, who is in charge of absentee ballots, also said she was pleased and that the process went smoothly. 

She urged voters who have moved to a new residence to go to the Board of Registrars and give notification of the move, which will prevent a provisional vote situation from coming up. She said it is the responsibility of the voter to give that notice, or to register to vote, before a deadline before the election takes place.  One may also check about the situations on alabamavotes.gov. 

Odom said she is already accepting applications for absentee ballots for the July 17 race. She said as soon as the ballots are printed, she will be mailing out the absentee ballots. 

According to the Secretary of State's Office, the voter registration deadline for the runoff is July 2, while July 12 is the last day for voters to make an application for a regular absentee ballot. 

Polls will be open on July 17 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.