New runoff demanded

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 16, 2011

Supervisor candidate wants new runoff

By Billy Davis

Panola County Democrats were set to meet Thursday night to respond to William Pride’s request that they declare him the winner of an August 23 supervisor runoff or, failing that, set a date for a new run-off election.

In a three-page letter to election officials, Pride described how he and his poll watchers witnessed and recorded alleged instances of voter fraud, misconduct of poll workers, and violations of voters’ rights — all in the Democratic primary for District 2 supervisor that was held in August.

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Pride said he hand-delivered a copy of the letter September 10 to Rufus Manley and John Reed, two members of the Panola County Democratic Executive Committee.

The letter was also sent to Ronald McMinn and Julius Harris, who are both members of the non-partisan Panola County Election Commission.

Pride also sent a copy of the letter to District 2 Supervisor Vernice Avant, who won the Democratic nomination in the August 23 runoff. She faces a Republican opponent in the November 8 general election.

Manley said Thursday he had contacted members of the Panola County Democratic Executive Committee and set the meeting for the county courthouse in Sardis.

“We will look at his letter and answer his letter,” Manley, who chairs the executive committee, said.

Pride’s letter takes particular aim at poll workers, and their training and behavior, at voting precincts.Among allegations in the letter:

•   Poll watchers for Pride were not allowed to sit close to poll workers to hear voters state their names before signing in to vote.

•   Pride and poll watchers claimed they were not allowed to view the voter sign-in book.

•   Poll workers asked voters if they needed voting assistance — a violation of election statutes.

•   Voters did not declare a reason for requesting voting assistance.

•   Poll workers cooperated with Avant’s campaign workers to identify potential voters who had not cast a ballot then brought them to the precinct.

•   A voter who voted affidavit in the primary was not allowed to vote affidavit in the runoff.

•   A voter who partially completed his ballot claims it was completed without his knowledge.

Pride also wrote that a canvassing of ballot boxes after the election showed that some absentee ballots, which were questionable, were allowed to be counted. Others that should have been allowed were not, he claimed.

A volunteer who helped Pride examine absentee ballots said 44 absentees should have been thrown out and 19 should have been counted, a total of 63 ballots. Pride lost to Avant by 73 votes.

In his letter, Pride also alleged that Supervisor Avant failed to meet qualifications to seek re-election.

The letter did not elaborate about that charge, though Avant had disavowed her American citizenship in legal documents filed in chancery court in early 2011, when she would have been qualifying for re-election.  

Avant later claimed she was the victim of a scam and Chancery Judge Percy Lynchard restored to Avant “each and every right afforded to her” in the United States, Panola County, and the City of Sardis.

The judge’s order came July 27, four months after the qualification date had passed.

In his letter, Pride noted to the Executive Committee that a post-election report from the Mississippi Secretary of State also recorded questionable activities and decisions by Panola County poll workers last November.

After that report was made public, the Election Commission and the Executive Committee “have had actual and constructive notice of these types of problems,” Pride wrote. “Further, they have had ample time to take corrective steps that should have prevented repeated occurrences of these same irregularities but have failed to do so.

“Therefore, myself and other candidates have and will continue to suffer distinct injury until these matters are fully addressed and proper comprehensive corrective measures are implemented by you.”

Pride lost to Avant last year in a special election and said during Election Day that his poll watchers were recording questionable activity at the polls. He ruled out contesting the election because of the regular election cycle coming in 2011.