Local officials express concern over lack of diversity in board of registrars appointments

Published 2:13 pm Monday, October 5, 2015

By Fred Guarino
The Lowndes Signal
Local leaders held a press conference in front of the Lowndes County Courthouse in Hayneville, Monday,Oct. 5 to express displeasure over the lack of minority representation on the Lowndes County Board of Registrars and the closure of the driver’s license satellite office in Hayneville.
Secretary of State John Merrill recently announced that Governor Robert Bentley, Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler and Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries John McMillan each appointed 66 new members to the board of registrars.
Appointments for Lowndes County included from Bentley, Charles Martindale of Sandy Ridge, who declined in order to retire, from McMillan, Dianne W. Russell of Sandy Ridge, and from Zeigler, Joe Ward of Lowndesboro.
Bentley next appointed David Spooner of Lowndesboro to the board.
The board of registrars manages the registration of voters and maintenance of all voter registration records for each county.
On hand for the press conference were Lowndes County Commission Chairman Robert Harris, County Commissioners, Dickson Farrior, Carnell McAlpine and Brenson Crenshaw, Commission Administrator Jackie Thomas, Lowndes County Tax Assessor Connie Martin, Lowndes County Probate Judge John Hulett, State Representative Kelvin Lawrence, Hayneville Police Chief Kelvin Mitchell and Lowndes County Sheriff John Williams.
Harris read a statement on behalf of the commission, saying, “The Lowndes County Commission, as the governing body of Lowndes County, Ala. is extremely concerned about the recent appointment of voter registrars for Lowndes County. We expect at least a minimum of diversity because voting is very important for all citizens of Lowndes County.
He said, “These appointments do not meet our expectations at all… Because voting touches everything in our lives, the voting process must not only be fair, but must appear fair. That begins with the appointment of voting registrars who decide who can and cannot vote. Therefore voting registrars must be diverse for fairness.”
Harris continued, “Lowndes is 73 percent African American and at least that percent Democratic. However, the appointment by the governor and other appointing authorities do not include any diversity whatsoever.”
He said, “This is totally unacceptable. We along with other Lowndes County leaders call upon the governor and other appointing authorities to immediately get together and correct this situation.”
Lawrence called news of the appointments “very disheartening in terms of diversity (racial makeup).”. He said officials would like to see at least 30 percent representation on the board of registrars.
Lawrence said, “We know that if we are not represented equally, it is an attack on the democratic process, it’s an attack on voting rights, and we definitely want to keep making strides to continue to improve the voting process, not to take steps to hinder it or to move back to a negative direction.”
Lawrence discussed other actions affecting Lowndes County, as well, including the closing of the driver’s license offices mostly in Black Belt counties.
He said the closure in Hayneville, “It puts our citizens in hardship.” And he called it “definitely a hindrance.”
Lawrence said county residents already have limited modes of transportation and the closure decreases the services that are provided in the county to make the lives of citizens better.
He said with the driver’s license office being gone, people have to take a day off from work and school to go to Montgomery.
“We definitely want to see something done. We are going to do everything we can to keep the driver’s license office open, ” Lawrence said.
He said he would reach out from his office to the governor’s office try to rectify both situations.
Lawrence said the closure of the driver’s license office in Hayneville doesn’t save the state any money because no employees were lost, just moved to other locations. He said, “The state wasn’t paying any rent, it wasn’t paying any utilities… that was provided to them by the Lowndes County Commission. We really don’t understand why the driver’s license office was closed… it’s just a loss and a very bad situation for the citizens of Lowndes County.”
Harris said the lines of communication are open and that county officials look forward to the governor coming up with a solution to the situation here in Lowndes County. He said someone should have come to Lowndes County to see if the county had enough money to keep the driver’s license office open.
Hullet said all the probate judge’s office can do regarding driver’s licenses are renewals.
He said there was a time his office could do IDs for citizens when someone brought their birth certificate in. And he said he would like to be allowed to have his office provide IDs.
He also said voter IDs were a waste of money when IDs could be made to use for anything.
Newly appointed registrar Ward said he was unaware of any controversy over his appointment. He said last year he substituted on the board of registrars for a person who was sick, and over a period of about five months became knowledgeable about what needed to be done. He said he read the rules and laws and was “somewhat trained.”
Ward, who serves as a volunteer firefighter in Lowndesboro, said, “I just reapplied. And upon reapplying, Jim Zeigler sent me a letter of appointment. And to that extent is all that I know .” He added, “And I’m here today still trying to get a password (for the computer), which none of the three registrars here have as of this date.”
Russell and Spooner declined to comment on their appointments.

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