Absentee ballots challenged

All came from nursing home residents

tchitwood@ledger-enquirer.comDecember 3, 2008 

Twenty-two absentee ballots cast in the names of local nursing home residents are being challenged after a woman reported finding someone in her mother’s room at Hamilton House persuading the elderly patient to sign one of the ballots.

A relative said that report came from Ruth Turner, the daughter of Hamilton House resident Roxie Taylor. It led election workers to question the validity of other absentee ballots that were mailed to the home of Vickie Stafford at 2857 Hilyer Drive in Columbus before being cast in the names of nursing home residents, said Nancy Boren, Muscogee’s elections director.

Turner complained to Boren on Monday and was referred to local District Attorney Gray Conger, who is checking into the complaint. On Tuesday, Stafford came to the elections office to deliver a stack of ballots from nursing home residents voting in Georgia’s runoff elections, Boren said.

Those ballots are being held until Muscogee’s elections board can examine them during a hearing on Friday, Boren said. City Attorney Clifton Fay said the board will decide whether to count or void the votes before certifying local results from the runoff.

Meanwhile Conger’s office will be investigating to determine whether Stafford broke the law. The district attorney said Taylor signed her absentee ballot for Stafford, but alleged Stafford did not mark it the way Taylor wanted.

Boren said some of the ballots bore no voter signature, only an “X” or other mark.

Conger said Georgia election law states: “Any person who, while giving lawful assistance to another, attempts to influence the vote of the elector he or she is assisting or marks a ballot or ballot card or registers a vote in any other way than that requested by the voter he or she is assisting shall be guilty of a felony and, upon conviction thereof, shall be sentenced to imprisonment for not less than one nor more than ten years or to pay a fine not to exceed $100,000, or both.”

A call to Stafford’s home went unanswered Wednesday evening. Conger said his staff will investigate to see if other nursing home residents’ ballots were marked the way they wanted.

Boren said Stafford also had absentee ballots sent to her home for the Nov. 4 general election. Fay said those likely will not be examined, as the number of votes would not have changed the outcome of any elections.

Roxie Taylor is by marriage related to Bert Coker, who this year ran for Columbus Council’s Post 10 at-large seat. Coker said Taylor, who’s in her 90s, is his wife’s grandmother. His wife, Debra, is the daughter of Ruth Turner, he said.

He said Turner twice found Stafford in her mother’s room this year.

Hamilton House is operated by the Columbus Regional Healthcare System. Marion Scott, a spokeswoman for Columbus Regional, said Stafford is not an employee of the facility.

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