ACLU Demands Pocomoke Hold New Election After Machine “Malfunction”

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Proposal to mail absentee ballots to voters after ballot discrepancy in 1st district race would violate voting laws says civil rights group

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Story Transcript

TAYA GRAHAM, TRNN: This was the scene earlier this week in Pocomoke, Maryland as election officials huddled in the Worcester County library branch, trying to determine who won a controversial election for 1st District Council Seat. The Real News was there as a yet to be identified machine technician tried to sway the board that despite a discrepancy in the number of people who voted and the number of ballots recorded, a winner should be declared.

MACHINE TECHNICIAN: Contest it all you want, it’s still [only a difference of] 5 votes. So you’ve got a winner.

GRAHAM: Officials still haven’t explained why the machine registered 132 voters but only 127 votes in the tight race between Sheila Nelson and incumbent George Tasker. Now the ACLU of Maryland is challenging a plan to mail absentee ballots only to voters who showed up Tuesday to allow them to vote again. It’s a plan they say is unconstitutional. In this letter to Pocomoke election officials, Maryland ACLU attorney Deborah Jeon says all voters in district one should be allowed to participate in order to comply with state election law. But this is not the first time a Pocomoke election has come under fire. A fact that only adds to the controversy that has enveloped the town since the council fired its first black Police Chief Kelvin Sewell 9 months ago. 

This is the city’s fourth district. It’s prominently black and suffers from the most obvious signs of poverty in town. But last year new Berlin Police Officer Brian Hirshman, ran uncontested for the council seat. His appointment confirmed after city officials canceled the election without notifying the public after the incumbent mysteriously dropped out of the race. His appoint raised concerns because he represents 1 of only 2 majority black districts out of 5 in the city.

A fact that caused even more acrimony after 4th District resident Sheila Palmer tried to run as a write in and city officials turned her away.

When you went to hand in your write in application that you were turned away.

SHEILA PALMER: Yes, I was. 

GRAHAM: What did the city clerk say to you?

PALMER: She just said that they didn’t do write ins for the city election.

STEPHEN JANIS, TRNN: Is that true?

PALMER: I guess, in their law, I guess.

GRAHAM: Which is now why Pocomoke, a town evenly divided between blacks and whites has just one African American representative on the council, Diane Downing. This week we spoke with voters on both side, including the two candidates who told us they were hopeful that the outcome of the race would ease tensions.

GEORGE TASKER: Oh I believe we’re moving forward. Everything’s going great.

SHEILA NELSON: And not taking anything from anyone else because I think we all have the same focus to better Pocomoke City. 

GRAHAM: But now the troubled election only seems to have thrust the small town on the Eastern Shore into even more turmoil. Conflict which continues to be hidden behind closed doors. Just like the firing of Chief Sewell. When we asked city officials to weigh in on the ACLU’s concerns and tell us what went wrong on Tuesday night, we received the same response, no comment.

This is Taya Graham and Stephen Janis reporting for the Real News Network in Pocomoke City Maryland. For full disclosure Stephen Janis wrote a book with Kelvin D. Sewell

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