Food by VICE

Wine Shop Worker Finds Long-Lost Election Ballots in Basement

The date on the envelopes, some of which contained absentee ballots? September 4, 1984.

by Jelisa Castrodale
Dec 13 2018, 7:00pm

Photo: Saul Martinez/Getty Images

When Domaine South moved into a new location earlier this year, its owner promised that it would have more than just a few good bottles of Willamette Valley whites on its shelves. “Yes, we are a fine wine shop,” owner Kristian Denis said. “But we will also have small plates, coffee, tea, locally made goods, cookbooks, and more.” What Denis couldn’t have known at the time was that “and more” would include a box of apparently unfiled election envelopes—including absentee ballots—from the mid-1980s.

According to WHNT, an employee of the Huntsville, Alabama shop was working in the basement when he discovered a shelf with a false back. He hesitated before investigating, possibly curious whether the shop had borrowed its furnishings from an episode of Scooby Doo. But instead of clues about Old Man Messick’s haunted carnival, the worker found a large cardboard box filled with white envelopes.

There were dozens of sealed envelopes, and most of them were addressed to the then-chairman of the State Democratic Executive Committee of Alabama. The date in the upper right corner? September 4, 1984. “They'd been down there for quite some time,” Denis told the station. “We just were curious as to what we had found. [Madison County Probate Judge] Frank Barger came over here today and picked them up."

At least three of the envelopes were marked ‘Absentee Ballot,’ but the majority of them seemed to be canvassing statements from that September’s primary election. (MUNCHIES has not received confirmation as to what election the ballots referenced, but on September 4, 1984, incumbent Senator Howell Heflin won the Democratic nomination during a primary election in Alabama. He was ultimately re-elected, beating Republican challenger Albert L. Smith, Jr. in the general election two months later).

Denis is unsure how the ballots ended up in her shop’s basement, because it has only been her basement for a few months. "The building's been around since the late 1800s, so who knows how many offices and businesses have been in here," she said. "It was a diner at one time, it was a bank at one time, the original vault is still in the building. I think there's a lot of stories to be told."

Judge Barger collected the box and will turn them over to the Madison County Democratic Party, who have the option of either keeping them for posterity or destroying them. (MUNCHIES has reached out to both Domaine South and the Madison County Dems for comment, but we’ve not yet received a response).

What we’d really like to know, though, is what kind of wine Denis would pair with a box of carefully hidden election materials.