County, State gear up for the big day

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 6, 2003

The clock is ticking for Gov. Bob Riley to gain as many new supporters of his proposed

$1.2 billion tax and accountability package.

The Riley campaign burned up the roads this week, making last-minute appearances in several counties and cities throughout the state educating citizens on the package before voters flock to the polls on Tuesday in the statewide referendum.

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&uot;The governor has been averaging about six events a day just on the package,&uot; state press secretary David Azbell said. &uot;That doesn't include the events he does just by virtue of being governor – economic development announcements and other events. We've probably got a more frenzy pace than we had in the busiest days of the gubernatorial campaign, but this is something that the governor feels passionately about. He is the best salesman for this plan.&uot;

Azbell has attended several conferences Riley has spoken at during the past five months promoting the tax package. He said citizens have expressed skepticism of the package's intentions prior to the events, but said several on hand were convinced the package is &uot;the best plan for Alabama&uot; after hearing the governor's sale pitch.

&uot;We have him out on the road because he is the best advocate for this plan,&uot; Azbell said.

Montgomery officials believe attendance at the polls could make or break the proposal s chance of approval.

&uot;At this point it all depends on turnout,&uot; Azbell said. &uot;We are really kicking up the grass-roots efforts. I think we are beginning to reach the folks who are actually getting tax cuts under this plan and getting our message through to them. Tuesday is going to depend largely upon who does the best job with turnouts.&uot;

In a poll conducted by The Birmingham News, 42.2 percent of those polled are for the tax and 50.2 percent are oppose it as of Friday. Only 7.6 percent surveyed are undecided.

&uot;We're down according to the polls, but at the same time we are redoubling our efforts to get the message out,&uot; Azbell said.

Azbell said that the governor's office hasn't kept a count of what counties and cities Riley has visited promoting the tax package, but said they have done their best to send him to every area of the state.

&uot;We have done our best to put him in every area of the state,&uot; Azbell said. &uot;From north, central and south Alabama, from the wiregrass to the black belt and back again. We have done our best to get him in as many areas of the state as possible.&uot;

Local election officials and poll workers have been working vigorously to prepare the counties 21 polling sites for the election. Butler County Probate Judge Steve Norman held a training session on Thursday with poll workers explaining how to properly setup the polling sites and to handle all situations that may occur on Tuesday.

&uot;It's going good,&uot; Norman said. &uot;We've been working on getting all the supplies ready for the different voting houses. They started hauling in machines, supplies and whatnot Thursday afternoon. By Tuesday everything will be setup and ready to go.&uot;

Norman is the chief election officer, which oversees poll workers throughout Election Day. He, along with Butler County circuit clerk Allen Stephenson and sheriff Dianne Harris are the three election officials that will signoff on the election results once they are tabulated on Tuesday night at the Courthouse Annex.

Stephenson was in charge of absentee ballots, which allow citizens that cannot go to the polls due to physical condition or job-related circumstances such as being away with the United States Military, to vote. Absentee ballot applications were accepted through Thursday afternoon. Stephenson said citizens with medical or work related emergencies can apply for absentee ballots through Monday.

&uot;There's been a huge response for absentee ballots,&uot; Stephenson said. &uot;Far more than I had anticipated. I think there are a lot more people interested in this issue than I would have thought to begin with. A lot of people have gotten motivated to vote by the importance of the issue.&uot;

Stephenson said more than 200 absentee ballot applications have been received for the upcoming election. He said that kind of response is phenomenal.

&uot;For a single issue ballot, it's by far the largest response we've had,&uot; Stephenson said. &uot;I think if it forebodes the polls, I think there will be a lot of people turnout.&uot;

The circuit clerk said not that many absentee ballots were received in 2000 during the Presidential Election when Butler County ballots included the 10-year renewal of the countywide ad valorem tax. The renewal was defeated, but passed in 2001 when it was voted on as a single issue.

&uot;It didn't get nearly as much response as this election has, in terms of absentees,&uot; Stephenson said.

Harris will provide transportation of the polling boxes to prevent the possibility of any tampering of results.

Many citizens throughout Butler County are opposed of the tax hike, which includes an increase in property taxes for homeowners whose home is valued at more than $50,000, an increase in taxes on mortgages and deeds, an addition of taxes on home and auto repairs, an increase from 16.5 cents to 31 cents per pack of cigarettes and a new tax charge for longnterm vehicle leases and shortnterm vehicle rentals.

&uot;I'm voting, but I'm not voting for the tax&uot; Fort Deposit's Rosie Davison said. &uot;I just can't afford for the taxes to go up.&uot;

Greenville's Rosa Tanner isn't opposed to a tax, but believes Riley's proposal is too much of a tax increase at one time.

&uot;I'm voting no,&uot; Tanner said. &uot;I wouldn't be opposed to go up a little bit, but I feel it's too drastic. We own a farm and tax on repairs is going to kill us.&uot;

A lot of citizens believe the only positive is that the child exemption on income taxes will be raised from $300 per child to $2,200 a child if the tax is passed. The minimum threshold to tax families also would increase from $4,600 to $20,000.

Polls will open on Tuesday at 7 a.m. and will close at 7 p.m. Here is a list of Butler Counties polling sites:

q Providence

q Industry old school house

q Steiner's Store voting house

q Midway voting house

q Harrison's voting house

q Searcy Fire Department

q Manningham

q Monterey old school house

q Forest Home voting house

q New Armory machine

q Health Department machine

q Central Fire Station

q Dunbar machine

q Georgiana Armory machine

q Chapman Post Office

q Friendship old school house

q Rocky Creek

q Center Hill

q Bolling

q McLain's

q McKenzie

For the first time during an election, voters will be asked to provide a form of identification before entering the voting booths. Norman said that 26 different forms of identification including a driver license, fishing license, hunting license, gun permit, military identification, birth certificate and social security card will be accepted. A list of valid ID's will be posted at each polling site. If a voter doesn't have one of the 26 forms of identification two polling officials can identify them and signoff on their ballot.