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Post cards create a stir with voters

By Staff | Oct 29, 2010

CHARLES TOWN The Jefferson County Democratic Executive Committee filed a complaint with the Secretary of State’s Office against County Clerk Jennifer Maghan Oct. 22.

Reva Mickey, JCDEC chairwoman, said the committee did so because of a recent mailing an estimated 23,000 registered Jefferson County voter households received shortly after early voting began.

The mailing was sent to registered voters in the form of a postcard with information about when, where and how to vote. On the card was the Jefferson County Clerk’s seal as well as Maghan’s name, who is on next month’s ballot for reelection.

“It gives the appearance that she’s doing…campaigning or electioneering on her behalf,” Mickey said.

“If I were going to campaign,” Maghan said, “it wouldn’t be a small, plain black and white postcard.”

Mickey checked with other county clerks to see how they get individuals to the polls. They mentioned running advertisements in local newspapers when the sample ballots were ready.

In a release sent out by Maghan, it stated that the postcards were sent out due to “low voter turn-out and a high number of commuters that do not read the local newspapers.”

Voter turnout for the Special Primary Election for U.S. Senate had a 12 percent voter turnout.

“Our office sent our emergency precinct change reminders to three precincts prior to the election, and as a result, had a significant increase in voter turnout,” Maghan said in the release. “Many residents commented that had they not received that notice, they never would have known that the special election was taking place.”

As far as the most recent mailing, Maghan said her office has received a positive response from the community. Voters have come in, emailed and called to thank the office for sending the information out.

“We’ve gotten great results on that,” she said.

Maghan added, “The most important thing I thin I’ve heard .. is that people didn’t know we have early voting.”

As of Tuesday evening, early voting totals were at almost 9 percent in the county, with 2,968 votes already in.

But what the JCDEC believes is the real “abuse of power” is using taxpayer money to fund sending out this information with Maghan’s name on it, just weeks before Election Day.

Maghan said that it cost just under $3 per voter to send out the mailling. It was about $6,000 for postage and about $700 to print the cards.

Mickey said that while Maghan may just be doing her job trying to get people out to vote she believes she could have done it without including her name.

“I have no hang up at all about reminding people to vote,” Mickey said. “But I think it was totally misused and abused in this situation.”

Maghan said that “anything official that goes out” of the county clerk’s office includes both the county seal and her name. That way, voters know it is an official mailing from her office.

Mickey said the JCDEC considers this postcard political campaign material. Had Maghan not been on this year’s ballot, then it would be a different story.

The JCDEC is also concerned about how the postcard will be dealt with if voters decide to take it into the polling places. Because Maghan’s name appears on it and because the JCDEC believes it is campaign material, the committee believes poll workers should immediately remove it.

“If someone takes it into the polling place, is that a violation?” Mickey asked.

The JCDEC also believes that the publicly funded county clerk website is being used by Maghan “to promote her campaign as well as her fellow Republican candidates.”

Maghan responded in the release stating that since 2006 the county clerk’s site was the first in the state to offer direct links to candidate information including financial statements, photos and websites.

“Our office provides equal opportunity to all candidates on the ballot of have their information posted on the Clerk’s website, and a disclaimer clearly states that the office of the county clerk does not endorse any candidate and that any views on the site are those of the individual candidate and have been posted at the candidates’ request,” Maghan said in the release.

Jake Glance, spokesperson for the Secretary of State’s Office, said under state code 3-8-8i, the office is prohibited to acknowledge the status of a complaint. He said he “can or cannot say if they’ve received it.”

He said, however, once complaints are properly signed and notarized, the office will determine if they have legal jurisdiction to investigate.

Glance added, “Election complaints don’t change the outcome of the election.”