Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Where to draw the line: Phil Wyrick and early voting today

Posted By on Tue, Oct 21, 2014 at 6:42 PM

POLL DISPUTE: Phil Wyrick called for measurement at poll today.
  • POLL DISPUTE: Phil Wyrick called for measurement at poll today.
Phil Wyrick, the Republican candidate for county judge, got in a disagreement with election officials today at an early voting site — the McMath Library on John Barrow Road. Campaigning is prohibited within 100 feet of a poll and a witness said Wyrick objected when election officials said he was too close.

Wyrick disagreed on where the 100-foot boundary should fall. Ultimately, higher officials were called in and a tape measure produced to firmly mark off boundaries. By Wyrick's account, his original interpretation was correct.

A woman who observed the incident and called me about it, told me that Wyrick objected vociferously to poll officials when questioned about where he was handing out cards.  He wanted an explanation of how they were interpreting the 100-foot rule.  He is a former member of the County Election Commission. He resigned to make the race for county judge.

Chris Burks, a member of the Election Commission, provided this account in an e-mail:

I was checking on the McMath Library early vote location at lunch because it had been busy yesterday and I wanted to ensure it was going well today. I'm not sure it is newsworthy, but when I got there Phil was on the phone with the election commission staff about the 100 ft. boundary for electioneering. The staff handled it professionally and marked the boundary where all campaigns can stand. Phil told me that prior to my arrival he had been told by poll workers that the boundary was further back than he thought it was. The Election Commission has a tape measure for this exact scenario, and I left John Barrow after everything was measured off.

Bryan Poe, the county election director, said:

We received a call from one of our early voting sites, McMath Branch Library, stating that there was a man handing out literature too close to the doors of the site. After having discussed the situation with the site supervisor, our staff members went to the site and marked the correct distance from the door, 100 feet (at which campaigning is allowed) in order to clear up any confusion. When I arrived the site, the situation appeared to have been handled. I talked to the campaigner, Mr. Wyrick, and our site supervisor to ensure that everyone was clear on where electioneering was allowed at the site. 

I've sent a note asking for a comment from Wyrick, who is seeking to succeed retiring County Judge Buddy Villines. Barry Hyde, a Democrat, is the other major party candidate for the post.

UPDATE: Wyrick said he understood the rule applied 100 feet from the front door of a poll. When he arrived to campaign at midday today, a security guard told him he was too close and that he needed to move — and move his unmarked truck — to a point out of view of the door, almost 400 feet away on Barrow Road. He said he believed that was incorrect and attempted to get an explanation from the chief election judge, but couldn't . He said he also couldn't get the poll officials to call the election commission office to work on the issue. He said he wanted to avoid an escalation of the issue by bringing in an authority.

That brought out Poe and Burks with the tape measure. Wyrick said the distance was roughly where he'd initially started out to campaign, but closer than a fireplug that the chief judge said had typically been used as a guideline. He said he stayed there four more hours without incident. He noted that a woman who'd challenged him outside the building had videotaped him. He said he understand people were looking for gotcha moments in the heat of campaigning.

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