The Natchitoches Times met with local election officials from Natchitoches Parish to ask questions about the voting process. Answers were provided by Clerk of Court David Stamey, Registrar of Voters Kathrin Holden and Commissioner Dorothy McGaskey with City Councilperson At-Large Betty Sawyer-Smith and Voter’s and Civic League President J.W. Scarborough attending. Some responses have been edited for length and clarity.
1. What should voters do if they don’t know if they’re registered to vote?
(Stamey) You’ve got options. You can go see Kathrin. She’s open every day from 8:30 to 4:30. You can confirm (voting status) at her office or at Geauxvote.com and it assures people that nobody is trying to take their right to vote away from them.
2. What should voters do if they don’t know their polling location?
(Stamey) The GeauxVote.com app is open 24 hours a day. I can put my name in there and it asks you a couple security questions. I can go to my menu, and it’s going to show my voting location if I want to go to election day voting. I vote at M.R. Weaver and it gives you a map. Or if I wanted to early vote, it says go to Katherin’s office, Natchitoches Parish Courthouse, 200 Church St., Office 103, and if I want directions, boom, it tells me how to get to the courthouse.
(Holden) If they go to a polling location on election day, and their name is not in the book, but they know that they vote, then the commissioner will call me and say I’ve got this voter, and I can tell them where they need to be.”
3. How can voters learn more about items on the ballot?
(Stamey) That’s another thing I really like about the Geauxvote app is I can go to My Districts, and it tells you Senate District 31. It shows what School Board district I’m in, and it says what’s on my ballot and my next election is Nov. 8. I can see things like my elected officials from Governor John Bel Edwards to Van Kyzar is my court of appeals person. It’s got everything on there. When there is a referendum it pops up under my ballot. The Secretary of State, they developed a really good system.
(The Natchitoches Times also publishes election information multiple times prior to all elections.)
4. What should voter’s do if they encounter a problem?
(Stamey) I’m worried more about machines on election day. Kathrin is worried more about voters on election day.
Now if there was a problem… If you haven’t voted in two straight federal elections or anything in between, they do an address confirmation. Kathryn, before she purges anybody she sends out a letter that says: Mr. John Smith, please verify your address and we’re not going to purge you. You also have the ability to do a lot of this online or call Katherin and she can take care of it.
(Holden) Call the Registrar of Voter’s office at 318-357-2211 for problems as a voter.
(Stamey) Call the Clerk of Court’s office at 318-352-8152 for problems with voting machines.
(Scarborough) Sometimes if they see that 225 number they say, “I ain’t calling Baton Rouge”. It’s good for them to do it local and establish that relationship with local representatives, but they get the same thing.
4. Is there a way to check if a mail-in vote was received?
(Holden) When we receive it we print out an absentee report, that says that it was received, and we post it on our bulletin board outside at the office. People can come by and confirm. It’s just their name, so it doesn’t tell how they voted or any of that.
(Stamey) Katherin can take a phone call if it’s from the person.
5. Why has election fraud become such a concern in recent years? Are there safeguards in place to keep dead people from voting for example?
(Stamey) We have a group that meets every three months, and they go through the list. They frequently find a couple things: moved, deceased and et cetera, so we do our best to keep up with it because we live in such a transient society.
(Holden) We get a list from Blanchard St. Denis and we can also go on the Winnfield Funeral Home’s site too. We go on there daily and see who has passed away. We actually have to print it out because we have to have proof of where we got it from. Sometimes depending on where their services are or where they live we have to wait for the state to send us a list because people send in their death certificates for people. We try to catch them one way or the other, but sometimes the books are already printed and the people have just passed away.
6. What should voters do if they observe something suspicious or doesn’t seem right?
(Stamey) Call me. Call the Clerk’s office. The day of elections we coordinate with the Secretary of State. They have someone on call that day. If there are problems at the polls, the Sheriff’s office can be called. We want to make sure there’s no disruption of the process.
7. How long does it take to see the election results?
(Stamey) Approximately five minutes after we input it into the secure line to Baton Rouge, the GeauxVote app starts posting the results. The early votes post first, then as the city boxes come in, they get posted next, then we have deputies who drive to Campti, Provencal, and there’s no disruption. It goes from the commissioner in charge, to my deputies, straight into my office and we put it into that direct line. People used to be here until 10 at night. Now the same time I get the result, GeauxVote.com has the result.
(Holden) They get it quickly. That’s a good thing. It starts calculating as soon as the numbers start coming in.
8. What happens if a voting machine stops working?
(Stamey) At each polling location we have someone called the Commissioner in Charge. Ms. McGaskey serves as the Commissioner in Charge at the North Street daycare so she is running things that day. Most of the errors are typically voting errors. They’ve either punched the wrong thing or they’ve hit a button early.
When we have lockouts on the machine, Ms. McGaskey or another Commissioner in Charge has got to know are they in this district or the other district. An example is Louie Bernard and Jay Luneau’s Senate district runs side by side for a hundred miles, so they think they’re supposed to vote for Louie Bernard, but they’re in Jay Luneau’s district or they think they’re supposed to vote for Chris Petite, but they’re in Rosemary Elie’s district, so that has been a problem because voters are sitting there punching the button and wondering why it’s not lighting up.
(McGaskey) They’re in the wrong district to vote for that candidate.
(Stamey) Misunderstanding can lead to problems, but don’t hit cast vote without asking questions. The Commissioner in Charge is the manager.
I’m not saying machine problems can’t happen, but outside of printer problems and stuff like that we haven’t had many voting machine problems. I’ve been Clerk of Court for six years and about 15 elections. I’ve probably been called out five times about a voter problem, and I was lucky enough that I had the answer on all five of them.
9. Are there any other common sources of voter confusion?
(Stamey) There’s people that come to the courthouse and they say they vote at the courthouse. It’s because so many people have started early voting.
(Holden) If they miss early voting and their polling location is different, it confuses them.
(Stamey) That’s Kathrin’s biggest job on Election day is directing voters.
Our city, parish and state gets redistricted and is going through that right now. There’s going to be people transferred out of one district and into another and it creates confusion.
For presidential preference primaries, you have to be a registered republican to vote for a republican candidate and you have to be a registered democrat to vote for a democratic candidate, but on presidential preference only. It gets confusing and that’s why I hate them. They have to vote within their party and that throws people off.
10. What happens if someone forgets to finalize their vote?
(Stamey) They’re called a fled voter. They forget to hit cast ballot. Ms. McGaskey is listening, because the machine makes a pretty good noise and she knows if that vote got cast, but if somebody walks out and she hasn’t heard that, she goes wait, wait have you cast your vote?
(McGaskey) Most of the time we catch them. You can just open the curtain and walk out.
(Stamey) It creates problems for Kathrin if Ms. McGaskey has 96 people vote and she only has 95 votes on the machine. She let one get away, but she knows it. We have what’s called an exception report, and she says I had a fled voter and this is why.
11. How important is a person’s vote?
(Stamey) The Mayor of Pineville was elected by five votes with 2,635 votes cast. The Mayor of Haynesville won by one vote out of 877 votes cast.
(Scarborough) Every citizen should vote in all elections: local, state and federal.