It’s OK for people to have help with certain aspects of voting, but there are limitations.
That was among the rules Gregg County’s elections chief explained for voting by mail and in person on Monday, when she spoke to about 50 people in a county precinct where questions have been raised about whether mail-in ballots are being used properly. Produced by the Longview NAACP and the Gregg County Elections Office, the educational session was held at the Broughton Recreation Center, one of the precinct’s voting sites.
Elections Administrator Kathryn Nealy tackled mail-in ballots first, noting that it’s OK for people to obtain help reading them if necessary.
“They never sign the voter’s name,” she added. “This is something that we see. If they can’t sign (their name), there is a witness area to fill out. A person can witness one signature. You cannot assist many people.”
Mail-in ballots are available for voters who are older than 65 years or who are disabled. But the voter must request an application for a mail-in ballot by a deadline, which is May 11 for the May 22 runoff between justice of the peace candidates Robby Cox and James Mathis.
It was the mail-in ballots in Pct. 4 that reversed an early lead for county commissioner candidate Kasha Williams and made Shannon Brown a five-vote victor. Brown’s winning margin was upheld in a recount last week.
Jim Cogar, the county’s Democratic chairman, told people in the group they can receive an entire year of ballots if they request a mail-in ballot during January.
“And that includes runoffs,” he said.
Nealy urged the group to contact her if someone tries to bring a mail-in ballot to a voter.
“Nobody else can deliver your ballot to you,” she said. “If someone walks up to your door ... and says, ‘Here’s your ballot,’ you need to call my office.”
The voter also must sign the yellow envelope in which the ballot is mailed back.
“That signature on the application needs to match that signature on the ballot,” Nealy said. “So if you can read and you can write, you need to fill out the ballot yourself. That person that helps that voter ... they have to sign an affidavit of assistance. ... And they cannot suggest or point to a name on the ballot. You have to read the whole ballot.”
Voting in person got significantly simpler in Gregg County this cycle.
After success during last fall’s constitutional amendment election, Nealy implemented countywide voting for the March 6 party primaries. Under the countywide approach, which also is in use in Rusk and Upshur counties, voters can cast ballots at any polling site within their county.
Nealy acknowledged some voters are intimidated by the electronic voting machines in use here for a dozen years.
That’s why she keeps a machine for voters to practice on in her office on the courthouse’s first floor.
“We even have a demonstration machine that you can check out and take to your meetings,” she added.