Runoff Report

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 4, 2009

Secretary of State releases reports of supervisor runoff

By Billy Davis

Election observers for the State of Mississippi documented questionable activities at voter precincts during the November 24 supervisor runoff, a copy of their individual reports shows.

In one report, an observer wrote that two voters from Quitman County, after telling the poll manager they lived outside Panola County, were allowed to cast a ballot at the Crenshaw precinct.

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A poll watcher protested but was told her challenge came too late, the report also stated.

Both observers also documented, at two separate precincts, that poll workers failed to follow election rules for accepting or rejecting absentee ballots.

The Panolian received copies of the reports this week after submitting a Freedom of Information request to Mississippi’s Secretary of State, Delbert Hosemann.

Hosemann’s office sent two state workers to Panola County’s District 2 to observe and document the run-off election, which pitted challenger William Pride against incumbent Supervisor Vernice Avant.

Avant is expected to be sworn into office at Monday’s county board meeting in Sardis.

Pride acknowledged this week that his campaign asked the Secretary of State to provide observers for the runoff.

Observers Jeremy Martin and Carmen Kyle submitted separate reports, both six pages long, which documented their observations along with the time they occurred.

Martin documented election activities at voting precincts Longtown, Crenshaw, and Curtis-Locke Station.

After the polls closed, he also watched election commissioners open ballot boxes, and record absentees, at the county courthouse in Batesville.

Kyle observed the run-off election for most of Election Day at the Sardis Public Library and also at Longtown.

Pride, the day after the runoff, said his poll watchers documented illegal activity. He has a 20-day period, from November 24, to contest the election results.  

He said Thursday he plans to seek legal advice, as early as today, about contesting the election.  

Among their 12 pages of reports, both Martin and Kyle documented that absentee ballots bore the signature of a county election commissioner, Julius Harris.

Harris has denied in past weeks that he handled absentee ballots outside his role as an election commissioner. He also denied working on behalf of incumbent supervisor Vernice Avant.

But Kyle, in her report, wrote that she saw Harris’s signature as a witness on 15 absentee ballots dated November 16 or November 17.

Harris’ suspected role as a witness was also documented by the second observer, Jeremy Martin.

Absentee ballots did not alter the election results, which favored Avant by 141 votes. But a lot of absentees were counted in the election – 87 for Avant and 75 for Pride.

Election observer Kyle, in her report, wrote that “neither addresses nor signatures were checked/verified on absentee ballots.” That observation was documented at the Sardis library.

Election rules require the poll manager, after the precinct closes, to announce names, addresses and precincts when absentees are accepted or rejected by the poll workers.   

Instead, Kyle documented that bailiff Christine Jones read aloud only the voters’ names while other poll workers added those names to the poll book.

It was unclear if the poll manager at Sardis followed the next step, which is to match the voter’s signatures and ensure that the absentee ballot, if necessary, is notarized.    

Martin, the second election observer, recorded a similar situation at the Longtown precinct, where he wrote that a lone poll worker determined the legality of the absentee ballots.

Election observers rarely interfere in elections, but Martin wrote that he “asked (the poll worker) if that method was acceptable.” His report further states that the Longtown poll manager nodded her approval and the poll worker resumed her count.  

 Poll workers received training before the November elections, including instructions on how to accept or reject absentee ballots, said county election commissioner Ronald McMinn.

“They have a sheet with instructions that they go by to accept or reject the absentees,” McMinn said.  

McMinn said he could not comment about the observers’ accusations since he has not read their reports.

Among other reports from the two observers:

•Kyle recorded that a voter cast electronic ballots for two others when no request for assistance was stated.

Mississippi law allows voters to request assistance if they are blind, disabled or illiterate.

The election observer further stated, however, that the Sardis poll workers adhered to their own rules for helping the “many, many” voters who requested help with the electronic machines.

The poll workers “handled each situation very well,” she wrote.

•At Sardis, Kyle recorded five instances when poll workers turned away voters who were determined to live outside District 2.  

•Kyle documented that poll workers at Sardis “consistently offered up” a voter’s last name and physical address when voters gave only their first name.

Voters are supposed to state their full names and addresses before the poll worker records them in the poll book.

•Also at the Sardis precinct, Pride promptly left the Sardis precinct when told to do so by the bailiff. But Avant was “allowed to linger for several minutes,” according to Kyle’s report.

Candidates are allowed to enter the precinct to examine the poll book, typically to record the number of voters, but they are not allowed to talk to voters or linger.

Avant, when she left, walked out with bailiff Christine Jones, Kyle also wrote.

Martin, in his report, stated that Avant “stayed in the precinct” at Longtown for eight minutes.

•When a campaign worker for Avant delivered sandwiches to Crenshaw, the poll manager told Martin she had waited “to see who brought the food” before she voted.