BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) – 78-year-old Doug Edmonson knew he’d lost.
He’d run in a local election to become Vice President of the Glen Iris Neighborhood Association, one of the quasi-governmental groups meant to encourage and facilitate citizen participation across Birmingham’s 99 neighborhoods. Unfortunately, Edmondson had come up a few votes short. Unofficial election results posted by the City of Birmingham, whose community resource services division oversees the selection process, showed that Edmonson had received 49 votes. His opponent had received 55.
So, Edmondson was shocked when he received an invitation to attend the swearing-in of neighborhood officers at Boutwell Auditorium. He was to be sworn in as vice president, the invitation said.
Edmondson immediately told a city official there was an issue.
“I told her ‘I think you made a mistake,’” Edmondson said. “‘I lost the election by a few votes.’”
Still, Edmonson is listed as the winner of the race in Birmingham’s official election results, certified by the city council and published on the city’s website.
Edmonson wasn’t alone in his confusion. The retiree is one of many candidates – both winners and losers – who are raising questions about the legitimacy of the city’s recent neighborhood association elections. The errors range from less serious issues – candidates mislabeled as “write-ins” or vice versa – to more serious problems – inconsistencies that may have impacted election results in multiple neighborhoods. City officials said they’re “confident” in the election results, but that no system is “infallible.”
Before the Oct. 18 neighborhood elections, Faith Abraham had served as the President of the North Pratt Neighborhood Association.
Abraham said she’d initially become involved with the group as a way to help address what she saw as an attitude among city officials that attracting businesses and investors should take priority over all else.
“There was a consensus that we need to do ‘development’ at any cost, even when it’s harming our neighborhoods and harming our neighbors,” she said.
To some extent, she said the neighborhood association served as a means of rallying the community around issues important to residents. But increasingly, Abraham said Wednesday, the local groups have been stripped of power and funding, leaving the groups only shells of their former iterations.
Now, she said, “shenanigans” related to October’s neighborhood association elections have made an already bad problem worse.
According to an official ballot posted by the City of Birmingham, Faith Abraham was the only candidate who qualified to run for the presidency of her community’s neighborhood association. Once the election was held, unofficial election results posted by the city showed Abraham winning the election for president, earning 21 votes to a write-in candidate’s 17.
It wasn’t until months later, she said, that she heard the city had made changes to the vote count that impacted her election. Official election results posted by the city and certified by the city council – results which include only the listed “winners” and their vote count – declared the write-in candidate had won the North Pratt election.
City officials asked that CBS 42 submit a public records request for full election results which include each candidate’s vote count. Those documents had not been provided by press time.
Abraham said that she’s heard from many folks in her community who already don’t participate in the neighborhood association because they don’t feel their voice is heard by city leaders. Election confusion only makes that dynamic worse, she said.
“We already have so many people discouraged that they’re just not supportive of the process,” she said. “We need to have a fairer, transparent election process that will make people confident in the election so that they go out and vote.”
Don Edmondson and others had notified the city about potential issues with neighborhood election results well in advance of yesterday’s officer inauguration in Boutwell Auditorium, and at Tuesday’s city council meeting, held just hours before the swearing-in, City Councilor Valerie Abbott asked for an update on what she characterized as “errors” in the election results certified by the council months earlier.
“On the 17th of this month, we approved item 53, which was the certification of the results of the neighborhood election. My understanding is that there were errors in there, and we approved people that did not actually win,” Abbott told a city official appearing before the council. “So, when will that be coming back to the council?”
The official responded that he would follow up with the council on the issue. Abbott persisted.
“Because tonight people will be sworn in who were not on our certified list,” Abbott warned.
Officials with the city’s community resource services division referred all questions about the election issues to the mayor’s communications director. A statement provided to CBS 42 by Marie Sutton, a public information officer for the mayor’s office, and attributed to the community resources services division, said that the city is “confident” in the neighborhood election results.
Our neighborhood elections are a free and fair process. Our office works painstakingly to assure that all votes cast are counted. We are confident in our process and the results. No system, however, is infallible and so we welcome any concerns and look forward to addressing them.
Neighborhoods that still have vacant offices can host a special election in March. These results, along with the current election results and any other amendments, will be presented to City Council. Once approved, the full election results will be posted for public review. Any questions should be sent to the Community Resource Division at CommunityResourceServices@birminghamal.gov.
We value our neighborhood leaders and our residents and are grateful for their commitment to service. We look forward to working together to help build a stronger city.Statement attributed to Birmingham’s Community Resource Services division
In the end, Faith Abraham said that she’s unsurprised by what she sees as indifference in Birmingham’s city government. She said that she recently asked city officials why flyers notifying residents about neighborhood meetings weren’t being distributed as they had in the past. A funding source had dried up, she was told.
“Yet somehow I get four or five flyers with Mayor Woodfin’s face on them,” she said. “Maybe if he’d cut out one of those, they could afford it.”
She said that regardless of the actions of city leaders, she wants North Pratt residents – and folks living all across the city – to engage in local politics. But for that to happen, she said, they need to feel their voices are heard.
“That starts with fundamental things,” she said. “Like you shouldn’t have to file a public records request for election results.”