Election Report

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 4, 2011

Panola problems get little mention in election report

By Billy Davis

A post-election report from the Mississippi Secretary of State includes only a sampling of voting irregularities that were recorded in Panola County last November.

The Secretary of State gathered written information from observers who fanned out into 29 Mississippi counties during the Nov. 2 General Election and Nov. 23 General Election Runoff.

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In Panola County, at least one state observer visited four voting precincts — East Batesville, Batesville No. 3, Courtland, and North Batesville B — during the General Election.

Two state observers also returned to Panola County for the run-off election three weeks later, where one observer recorded six pages of notes that criticized poll workers’ actions at the Como precinct.

The Panolian has reported that the single observer, posted at Como’s public library, alleged problems there with curbside ballots, absentee ballots, and challenged ballots.

Despite the lengthy list of voting problems at Como, few of the observer’s notations were included in the state report, which was released Tuesday by the Elections Division within the state office.

The Feb. 1 state report describes the Como precinct only once, alleging that a man told a curbside voter who to mark on the ballot while a second man held the ballot.  But the Nov. 23 observer had also described two similar incidents outside the library that were not included in the final state report.

Among other accusations, the Como observer wrote that Como poll workers improperly accepted absentee ballots, even after the observer — knowing the answer — asked the poll manager if they were properly following state law.

The Secretary of State observer also wrote that the Como poll manager failed to follow election guidelines when candidates’ poll watchers challenged ballots. The poll manager is supposed to immediately decide the validity of the challenge but failed to do so, according to the observer’s report.

Neither the absentee ballot problems, nor the allegations about challenged ballots, were included in the final election report.

The Como observer also wrote in his report that a voter told him, after viewing the poll book, that someone had voted in the place of a family member. The state report mentioned two similar incidents, one in Tishomingo County, but did not state where the second incident occurred.

The Feb. 1 state report also described voting problems at Batesville B, the Patton Lane Community Center, where “a number of people were permitted behind the voting machines as people were voting,” according to the report.

“In some cases,” the report continued, “poll managers corrected improper voter assistance.”

A Secretary of State spokesman did not respond to e-mails Thursday asking why the report failed to include other voting problems from Panola County’s elections.

The Panolian has reported in past weeks that a Secretary of State spokesman repeatedly claimed a written report from the Como precinct did not exist even after a reporter, who was present at the Como precinct during the November runoff, repeatedly claimed that it did.  

The Panolian finally obtained a copy of the Nov. 23 observer’s report from Como after a reporter asked to interview Heath Hillman, who heads the Elections Division.