Election Day 2008

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 7, 2008

Brothers Jesse (left) and James Woodward were among the morning voters at the Mt. Olivet precinct Tuesday. Jesse, 97, and James, 100, are longtime residents of the community in southeastern Panola County. James Woodard said he has voted since “the first time I was allowed to.” The Panolian photo by Rita Howell

Record-breaking numbers flock to polls; Voter fraud alleged at Como poll

By Billy Davis

It was huge.

Official returns from Panola County show 16,531 votes were cast on Election Day, representing a record-breaking 80-percent turnout. 

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Current figures from the circuit clerk’s office show 20,578 registered voters.

Panola voters filled 24 precincts and used 121 Diebold voting machines, said Ronald McMinn, chairman of the non-partisan Panola County Election Commission.

In all but one race Panola voters picked the winners in high-profile races, choosing Democrat Sen. Barack Obama for president and sending Republican Thad Cochran and Democrat Travis Childers back to the U.S. Senate and U.S. House respectively.

Obama won 52 percent of Panola County’s vote compared to 46 percent for Republican Sen. John McCain. Obama claimed 8,690 votes compared to 7,620 for McCain.

In the second senate race, Panola voters chose Panola County native and Democrat Ronnie Musgrove for the second U.S. Senate seat, giving him 54 percent of the vote. But incumbent Roger Wicker, a Republican, won that race and will finish Trent Lott’s unexpired term.

A second Panola County resident, independent candidate Wally Pang, ran against Childers in the congressional race. Pang garnered 1,360 votes, or eight percent.

Southaven Mayor Greg Davis, a Repubican, finished second to Childers with 31 percent of the vote in Panola County. Panola voters delivered 59 percent of the vote to Childers.

During and after Election Day, voting problems were reported at the Tocowa precinct and questionable voting help was reported at the Como precinct.

Regarding Tocowa, McMinn said problems arose because some voters, as required by state law, had been moved to an “inactive” list because they had not cast a ballot in at least four federal elections, a span of eight years. 

McMinn said a “couple hundred” voters are on the inactive list and their names are not in a poll book.

Such voters are allowed to vote by affidavit ballot and their votes are counted if election commissioners can find their names on the inactive list.

The affidavit ballot ensures that “nobody was denied the right to vote,” McMinn said.

McMinn and other election commissioners counted more than 500 affidavit ballots Wednesday, and he estimated that two-thirds of those ballots “dealt with people on the inactive list.”

McMinn said he was alerted Tuesday about problems at the Como precinct, where voters who didn’t request help were “helped” by poll workers and by an election commissioner.

“We heard about it and did our best to correct it,” McMinn said.

Como poll watcher Walker Wright told The Panolian that he turned in the names of two Como poll workers who he claimed were telling voters whom to pick.

Wright said he also complained to the poll manager when a poll worker refused to allow him to view the poll book. The poll manager intervened on his behalf, he said.

“I don’t think they were surprised to see me working as a poll watcher. But they were surprised that I confronted them,” said Wright.

Wright said he was working Tuesday for the Wicker campaign and served as a campaign staffer.

A second poll watcher, Paul Shipman, said he observed election commissioner Vivian Burkley telling a voter that he was selecting Republicans on his electronic ballot.

“She told him, ‘You know you’re voting for Republicans, and he said, ‘Yes,’” Shipman recalled.

Shipman, who was observing for the Panola County Republican Party, said he reported that incident to the poll manager.

Wright said he, too, heard Burkley advising the voter about his ballot. “She said, ‘If that’s what you want to do, go ahead,’ and then she went and sat down,” Wright recalled.

Wright also claimed that Burkley was telling voters the party designation of the candidates.

“Like you couldn’t tell with the ‘D’ and ‘R’ beside their name,” he said.

Burkley was not seeking re-election to her District 1 election commission seat, and she was not listed as a Como poll worker.

Bill Ford, the Como bailiff, described “blatant voter fraud” at the Como precinct and said he may contact state authorities about investigating the poll workers.

Ford said poll workers tried to send him on errands, to lunch and on breaks because he was calling attention to voter intimidation and abuse of help for voters.  

“I’m a novice at this but I want to see something done,” Ford said. “It happened so much, and all day, and I couldn’t keep up with it. A blind person could see what was going on.”

See page A8 and A9 for other Election Day stories.