Johnnie Mae Shaw, an 83-year-old woman with heart problems, needed a ride to cast her vote May 9, so she called a phone number left on her answering machine offering free rides to those unable to make it to the polls. Evelyn Woods, Shaw's neighbor and friend for 39 years, saw her sitting outside her house on the afternoon of May 9 and asked Shaw if she needed a ride to the Tommie M. Allen Recreational Center, but Shaw told her she was waiting for someone to pick her up.
A man weighing approximately 300 to 350 pounds and wearing a Tennell Atkins T-shirt arrived, according to Shaw, and told her she had "the wrong man's sign" in her yard. She says he proceeded to tear apart her yard sign endorsing LeVar Thomas, Atkins's opponent for the District 8 city council seat, and put it in a neighbor's trash can.
Woods witnessed the incident and says the man threw the Thomas sign in the neighbor's garbage because he didn't want to be accused of removing signs, "which is exactly what he was doing." Woods says she saw the man remove Thomas literature from her car's windshield: "He was really clowning."
Woods says he was driving a dark pickup and was working for Atkins's campaign. She claims the man said, "We don't need another Lipscomb in office," referring to Thomas being the grandson of former council member Al Lipscomb. "We're going to correct that right now."
Shaw says the man tried to convince her to vote for Atkins on the way to the polling site after she told him she already knew for whom she was voting. When they arrived at the rec center, Shaw stayed in the car as a ballot was brought out to the truck. She says a group of eight to 10 people gathered around her as a woman brought out a ballot.
After voting for Thomas, Shaw says the woman told her: "You signed it wrong." She was also told she voted upside-down, which is impossible because the ballot had a bubble next to each name.
"They were trying to confuse me," she says. "They wanted me to put Atkins's name on there."
Shaw doesn't remember who gave the order, but someone said she needed to tear up her ballot and vote again. "I told them if I can't vote for who I wanted to, I won't vote at all."
Police were called to the scene when she refused to vote, and Shaw says the woman brought her a new ballot with her hand placed to obscure Thomas's name. "It made me feel like I was a child -- like I wasn't responsible for myself -- and they were going to make the decision for me."
Shaw doesn't know who she voted for on the second ballot. "They were trying to play a trick on me," she says. "I was so confused. They really scared me."
After hearing what happened to Shaw, Woods notified Thomas's campaign. "I just hate seeing elderly folks being mistreated or abused," she says.
Unfair Park attempted to reach a man working for Atkins fitting the description, but he refused to return numerous phone calls. The election judge, Johnnie Goins, hung up on us after this exchange.
"If this is going to be an interview, I want to be recording," Goins said. "Do you mind being recorded?"
"I do," she said before we heard a dial tone.
She was immediately called back, and Goins let her answering machine pick up. She also refused to return subsequent phone calls seeking comment.
Bruce Sherbet, elections administrator for the Dallas County Elections Department, said he was unaware of the incident and directed us to contact Brylon Franklin, elections supervisor. He too was not aware of the incident and said he'd contact Goins to get an explanation, but Franklin has not returned phone calls either.
Records obtained by Unfair Park show a total of seven complaints against Goins from the May 1997 joint election, the May 1998 joint election, the Feburary 2002 runoff (described by Schutze as "a little bit of old-time Election Day tomfoolery"), the March 2002 Democratic Primary (two complaints), the May 2007 joint election and the June 2007 joint runoff election.
Atkins appointed Goins to the Civil Service Board on May 13, just four days after he was reelected.
Cedric Carter, program center manager for the Tommie M. Allen Recreational Center, says he was aware that police were called May 9, but he wasn't there at the time. He looked at video taken that day and determined "it was really nothing," claiming it was merely a verbal altercation between poll watchers from both campaigns.
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However, Carter wasn't able to see the Shaw incident. "You can only tell so much from the video camera," he says. "I don't know what actually took place."
Unfair Park obtained a copy of a torn ballot numbered 317830, which was one of three listed on the "Register of Ballots Mutilated or Defaced" with "unknown" listed under "to whom given." For all three, "wrong mark" is listed as the "manner of mutilation of defacement."
Ballot 317830 shows only a vote cast in the city council race, with the bubble clearly marked for LeVar Thomas.
"I shouldn't have got in the car with him," Shaw says.