Election Contest

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 15, 2009

William Pride

Pride hopes state will act on allegations from campaign

By Billy Davis

A deadline for contesting the November 24 special election in District 2 arrived Monday without a formal challenge by losing candidate William Pride.

The now-gone deadline means the election results will stand, enabling incumbent county supervisor Vernice Avant to complete the four-year term of her late husband, Robert.

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She was sworn into office December 7 at supervisors’ First District meeting in Sardis.

Mrs. Avant narrowly defeated Pride in a runoff, winning by 144 votes of 1,402 votes cast, according to official election results.

Pride immediately alleged illegal election-related activities on Election Day and said afterward he was weighing whether to contest the election results.

But the Batesville businessman told The Panolian last week, as the deadline loomed, that a court fight over a special election would likely bump into the regular election cycle, now a year and a half away.

As evidence, Pride and his campaign workers considered the 2005 municipal election in Como. The contested race for mayor gobbled up more than two years – 31 months, according to Pride – of a four-year term.

Legal counsel, sought by Pride in past days, also advised him of a lengthy court fight, he said.

Faced with such a scenario, Pride announced last Friday he would not contest the election results.

Pride’s decision leaves the matter in the hands of Mississippi officials, Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann and Attorney General Jim Hood, as well as District Attorney John Champion.

The Panolian has reported that Hosemann’s office sent two election observers to the polls for the run-off election. Each observer compiled a six-page report that did include questionable activities.

Pride has acknowledged that his campaign requested the presence of the observers.

Poll workers for Pride have also provided written accounts of questionable activity they observed on Election Day, and his campaign workers also snapped photos of fresh gravel that had been dumped and spread on 40 driveway entrances in District 2 days before the runoff.

Pride’s campaign is questioning whether the gravel was dumped and spread by county workers in exchange for votes, though no county forces were photographed performing the work.

The written statements and photos have since been sent to the secretary of state and the attorney general.

Another piece of alleged evidence was also sent to Jackson: a four-minute video that shows election commissioner Julius Harris handling what appears to be 25 to 30 absentee envelopes.

The video was secretly taped in Sardis at the North Delta Enterprise Community, the non-profit where Harris is employed.

In the video, Harris is seen sitting alone at a table with the absentee envelopes stacked around him, with several more envelopes stacked in a desk drawer.

Harris, the District 2 election commissioner, has denied to The Panolian that he handled absentee ballots prior to Election Day or that he was a campaign worker for Mrs. Avant.

Among the poll workers’ observations were that Harris was seen driving voters to the polls.

Champion, the district attorney, said Friday he had received information in the mail related to Pride’s allegations that day. The information came from the secretary of state’s office, he said.  

“Typically election fraud is handled by the attorney general’s office,” not through the district attorney, said Champion.

With Pride’s list of allegations in the hands of state officials, local elected officials were also asked to take action at a meeting that was held December 10 at the Batesville Public Library.

“It was a meeting of concerned citizens,” said Ronald McMinn, an election commissioner who was asked to attend and did so.

Attendees of the meeting said state Senator Nolan Mettetal attended along with Circuit Clerk Joe Reid. Pride was also in attendance.

“If the allegations are true, Mr. Pride has a legitimate gripe,” said Mettetal. “A fellow deserves an honest shot when he runs for office.”

McMinn said he acknowledged to the gathering that “irregularities” occurred during the election but did not speculate whether those “irregularities” were mistakes by poll workers or were done intentionally.

McMinn said he spoke only after Pride said that he would not contest the election.  

“I assured the group that those irregularities would not happen in the future,” said McMinn.

Attendees also said the gathering of public officials heard a former poll worker describe questionable activities she had observed at a Sardis precinct.

An attendee said the gathering read the Secretary of State report’s and poll workers’ statements, and also viewed the videotape showing Harris.