Election Investigation

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 22, 2009

County election commission hears from investigator

By Rupert Howell

Panola County election commissioners met with an investigator of the Mississippi Attorney General’s office at a regular monthly meeting held Wednesday, Dec. 16 in Batesville.

Investigator Cordelia Bailey was looking into complaints reported by unsuccessful District 2 Supervisor candidate William Pride, who was defeated in a runoff election by incumbent Vernice Avant to fill the unexpired term of her late husband, according to election officials.

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Although Pride indicated earlier that he would not contest the election results, he sent a letter to the Attorney General’s office at the urging of backers to expose, “… a most grievous long time situation of documented election fraud and election irregularities.”

Ronald “Runt” McMinn is chairman of the election commission board and said after Wednesday’s meeting that the investigator was interested in certain absentee ballot envelopes and ballot applications.

McMinn said that the investigator had a list of 15 names where witnesses had said their ballots were filled out by an election commissioner.

While those ballots were being obtained by election commissioners and the investigator, conversation revealed that the commissioner in question was District 2 election commissioner Julius Harris.

Harris had also been identified as the commissioner in a video in what appears as him working with absentee ballot application envelopes prior to the November runoff election.  The video of Harris is also part of Pride’s complaint in the letter to the attorney general.

Pride states in his letter to the AG, “… It is not the result of the problem but the problem itself that must be addressed.”

Pride’s decision not to contest the election results stems partially from knowledge of a previous election in Como where it took approximately two years for the courts to rule.

“It makes no sense. The supervisor’s election was to fill an unexpired term of less than 24 months … The 2011 election could come and go before the courts would rule on a contested 2009 election. By then the question would be moot,” the letter states.

McMinn said that he has tried to “clean up” election irregularities and said that finding plenty of qualified election workers is part of the problem. Election commissioners regularly hold workshops for potential pollworkers, but some elections with different parties involved often stretch the number of trained workers available.

Pollworker training sessions are generally held prior to most elections. McMinn stated that he had held individual training sessions with one to three potential pollworkers  in cases where trained workers were not available.