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Dems claim GOP election judge broke law

By Brian Knox | Published Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Wise County Democratic Party has accused a Republican election judge of breaking election code law in the May 29 primary election, and they say their complaints haven’t been addressed in a timely manner.

The Democratic Party met Monday night at the Wise County Courthouse to discuss the latest on a complaint made against Precinct 1-5 Republican election judge Windell Splawn. The complaint was made by the precinct’s Democratic election judge, Patricia Braddon.

Braddon said that on election day voting, Splawn had a sample ballot that had already been filled out in his possession at the table. She said she saw Splawn hand the sample ballot to five or six people, who had the sample ballot while they voted and then returned it to him.

Braddon said she contacted other members of her party about what she had witnessed. One called Wise County Elections Administrator Lannie Noble to make the complaint before the polls closed, Braddon said.

Printouts of emails provided by Tracy Smith, a member of the Democratic party, show Braddon explaining the situation to Democratic Party Chairman Mark York around 9:30 on election night, May 29. The information shows that York forwarded that information to Republican Party Chairman Allen Williamson and Noble around 11 p.m. that same night.

“A complaint was lodged by the Democratic party regarding Pastor Splawn,” Williamson said Tuesday. “We took the allegation very seriously. He (Splawn) has resigned as election judge for this cycle.”

Williamson said Splawn remains as a precinct chairman.

Splawn “has handled everything very admirably,” Williamson said. He has agreed to be retrained, and he could submit his application to the executive committee to be a judge for a future election.

Williamson said it is his understanding that the people who allegedly used the filled-out sample ballot were members of Splawn’s family.

“I dispute that there was any voter fraud, but I do believe that things were done that shouldn’t have been done, and we’ve moved to correct that,” he said.

Election law allows voters to bring in documents such as a sample ballot that has been filled out, but those items cannot be given to a voter once they are within 100 feet of a voting booth.

Williamson said Splawn has served as a judge for at least 10 years and has been a dedicated member of the Republican party.

“If these allegations are true, then he made a lapse in judgment,” Williamson said.

Part of the frustration expressed by Democrats Monday night was the fact they had not received notification of Splawn’s removal as election judge. York said that at one point, other Democratic election judges said they would not work the general election.

“I know a lot of you election judges were so upset, you were thinking about not working elections,” he said. “I’m glad to say that everyone will stay in place. We’re not going to have the ‘blue flu.’ And I would like to thank you all for sticking through this.”

Williamson said he removed Splawn from the list of election judges for the Nov. 6 general election and replaced him with Scott Gates prior to Sept. 21. However, Williamson said he talked to Splawn about the action and asked him if he wished to protest the decision.

“Prior to the executive committee meeting, he (Splawn) said he would not protest the decision,” Williamson said.

The executive committee met Monday, and Splawn’s removal became official. Williamson explained that the matter of removing an election judge is handled by the committee, which meets quarterly.

Democrats expressed their opinion that something should have been done sooner. York said he had tried to meet with County Judge Bill McElhaney prior to last month’s Democratic monthly meeting to discuss the issue, but he still had not heard back from the Republican judge.

“It’s about respect for the minority party. We weren’t even entitled to a phone call,” he said. ” … We’re at six months since this happened.”

Several Democrats mentioned they believed McElhaney or Noble should have done more to make sure Splawn was removed immediately as an election judge. They even passed a resolution saying the party wanted an apology from them for the way the issue was handled.

Noble said the primary elections are not conducted by the county. Each party is responsible for conducting its own primary, just contracting with the county for the equipment and possibly training of election judges. He said any complaints about irregularities in a primary should be made to the party chairs.

York said that he had not been overly vocal about the issue because he wanted to be respectful, and he didn’t want to add to the recent string of stories about the alleged criminal actions of county employees and officials.

“Wise County has been in the paper so much lately for fraud,” he said. “We’ve had a commissioner removed, his (former) foreman has been removed. The last thing I wanted to do was make Wise County look worse than it already does with more fraud.”

He and others at the meeting expressed their desire to maintain the integrity of the voting process.

“The integrity of the election process is paramount to this party,” York said. “That’s why we’re all here. … We have no sympathy for people who violate that trust.”

Braddon filled out a complaint form to the Texas Secretary of State’s office, and she said she sent that form in late July. A copy of the form was provided to the Wise County Messenger. The complaint alleges five violations of the election code including unlawfully influencing voter, illegal voting, unlawful assistance, electioneering and unlawfully divulging vote.

However, Secretary of State Hope Andrade and members of her staff were in Decatur Tuesday morning for an unrelated visit and said their office had not received a formal complaint.

Braddon said she had received no response from the secretary of state’s office.

Williamson said he believes the matter has been handled correctly.

“If the allegations are true, that’s not something that should be done,” he said. “I believe this was an isolated incident that the executive committee handled correctly.”

The Democratic Party also passed a resolution Monday asking for written proof of Splawn’s removal as an election judge for the Nov. 6 election.

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