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Guest column: Editorial left out key facts on ballot decision
The Rev. Tom Smiley

Response to The Times' Editorial Board: 

I realize the editorial of Sunday, Jan. 21, was not a news story, but I believe strongly that integrity and honor aren’t held hostage by semantics. Editorials cannot be dismissed as just “we disagree” — they must still be fair-minded. It is clear to me that omissions and lack of a good faith intent was evident in many places in your editorial.

Allow me to address a few examples:

First, the The Times’ editorial read: “... the Hall County Elections Board voted to table, for now, the move to create Spanish-language ballots for elections.”

The Times is wrong on a couple of fronts. First, the motion was to rescind a previous motion that had no standing, not a motion to “table” any board authorization. The Hall County Board of Elections does not have the power or authority “create Spanish-language ballots.” The Board is responsible to carry out all election-related mandates as provided by state and federal law.

Second, the editorial read: “The federal Voting Rights Act requires a voting jurisdiction to offer bilingual ballots when more than 5 percent or 10,000 citizens of voting age belong to a demographic group whose dominant language is not English.”

Actually, Section 23 reads: “The law covers those localities where there are more than 10,000 or over 5 percent of the total voting age citizens in a single political who are members of a single minority language group, have depressed literacy rates and do not speak English very well.” The Times failed to mention the last part of the law’s explanation.

Third, the editorial read: “If Latinos voted mostly for GOP candidates, that vote probably would have been reversed.”

What a divisive and mean-spirited comment. The Times’ Editorial Board must have powers unknown to me, given they can read the minds of board members and have peered into the election box and noticed that Latinos voted most favorably for Democrats. That may be what exit polls infer, but we all know that exit polls have not been presently reliable.

Fourth, the editorial read: “Elections Board Chairman Tom Smiley voted against bilingual ballots based on his belief the board cannot authorize county commissioners to spend the money such a move would cost. Yet the board felt it does have the authority to create a panel to study the matter.” 

Again, misinformation. The study committee falls squarely in the duties and task of the Election Board. The Times should know this. Additionally, there does not appear to be the need for any budget for the study committee.

However, at the board meeting, I said, “If any budget were needed, I would ask the Hall County Board of Commissioners for the funding.” The Times must have forgotten that part of the meeting.

Fifth, the editorial asked: “Who will serve on it and how will they be chosen (to the study committee)? Will Hispanics be represented? Will political party affiliations be considered, as on the board itself, and will they influence its conclusion? How will the panel be managed? What specific information will it seek? The details are uncertain, yet important in figuring how the study will proceed and how its findings will be applied.”

If The Times had asked, I would have been happy to inform them about the study committee. It is obvious to me The Times felt if more important to divide and make up news than gather facts and get information.

Finally, The Times’ editorial failed to mention what I shared in my comments prior to my vote on the motion to rescind: “I will reiterate that the Hall County Elections’ Department will comply with any mandates from the Secretary of State’s office, which is responsible for preparing ballots, election forms and other materials. I can assure our citizens that when and if the population reaches the level that trips the mandatory requirement for bilingual ballots or when we are directed by the proper Hall County Government entities, the Board of Elections and the Election Staff will comply without hesitation.”

These are just a few of the issues I have. I know a few persons on the Editorial Board. I find it hard to accept that those I know would be as petty and mean-spirited as this editorial is, in my opinion. I choose to believe that some on the Editorial Board were misinformed or unavailable to review this editorial that ended up in print.

It is not too late to make it right and show the citizens of Hall County that whereas the Editorial Board may hold different views, it can still produce fair and balanced print. This is where integrity and honor will start.

Tom Smiley is chairman of the Hall County Elections Board.

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