Published 12:00 am Friday, November 27, 2009

Poll watchers Lillian Hudson (front), representing William Pride, and Lula Palmer, representing Vernice Avant, observe voters at the Sardis Public Library during Tuesday’s run-off election. Pride is mulling contesting the election results after his poll watchers alleged they saw questionable activities at the polls. The Panolian photo by Billy Davis

Challenger says poll watchers saw wrongdoing

By Billy Davis
District 2 Supervisor Vernice Avant defeated William Pride in a runoff that was much closer than the initial contest three weeks earlier, when Pride finished second with a 334-vote deficit.
Avant’s win on Tuesday keeps her in the District 2 seat formerly held by her husband, Robert. He had held the seat for two decades before he passed away in 2008.

Mrs. Avant defeated Pride at five of six precincts in District 2. He led only at Pleasant Grove, which he also carried in the November 3 election.

Unofficial run-off totals show Avant defeated Pride by 141 votes of 1,398 that were cast. She won 769-628, garnering 56 percent compared to 45 percent for Pride.

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A total of 162 absentee ballots were counted in Tuesday’s election – 87 for Avant and 75 for Pride.  

William Pride, alleging his poll watchers documented “irregularities” in the runoff, said Wednesday he is undecided about contesting the election results.

If he chooses to contest the election, Pride has 20 days to do so according to Mississippi law.  

“We made a great comeback,” Pride said. “But it’s hard to win an election with this type of corruption going on.”

Pride said his poll watchers have alleged that people who live outside District 2, and who live outside Panola County, were allowed to cast a ballot Tuesday.  

A poll watcher also recorded that a poll manager cast electronic ballots for voters, among other allegations, according to the candidate.  

Mrs. Avant, asked about her poll watchers, said they didn’t report any election problems Tuesday.

Mississippi’s Secretary of State’s office confirmed Tuesday that two election observers were dispatched to Panola County to observe the runoff.

Pride said he is undecided about whether to formally contest the election until he sees a “full written report” from poll watchers in coming days.

A report from the pair of Secretary of State observers is also forthcoming. That report is public record.

“My main concern is not to overturn the election,” Pride said. “My main concern is that this corruption doesn’t continue so whoever runs can compete in a fair election.”

“I want to correct the corruption,” he added. “Most people know this is going on and has been going on for 20 years.”

Questionable election activity is an ongoing story in Panola County, most recently in municipal races in Como. The town’s alderman-at-large and mayor were eventually seated after two years of court battles.

In a related case, Mississippi’s Attorney General, alleging a vote-buying scheme in Como, failed to get a conviction in circuit court.

The Panolian in 2007 covered a circuit court trial in Batesville, where state senate candidate Mona Pittman contested election results that favored state Sen. Nolan Mettetal.

Mettetal was eventually declared the winner in a case that went to the state Supreme Court.

The Panolian, also in 2007, reported questionable election activities when a reporter observed a “voter helper” casting ballots for voters who didn’t request help.