Sherriff’s Ballot Box Canvassing

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 25, 2011

Political ball now in Griffin’s court

By Billy Davis

The canvassing of Panola County ballot boxes concluded about noon Wednesday, wrapping up an examination of absentee ballots in 24 voting precincts.

Following the canvassing, the next step is unknown: will outgoing Sheriff Otis Griffin contest the Nov. 8 election?  

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Griffin has until Monday, Nov. 28 to formally contest the election results, William Bowen, attorney for sheriff-elect Dennis Darby, has said.

Bill Luckett, of Clarksdale, was representing Griffin during the ballot canvassing Nov. 18 and Wednesday.

After losing a special election to Griffin last year, Darby narrowly won the sheriff’s election over Griffin by 135 votes.  

After examining absentees, the two attorneys and their clients were set to return from lunch Wednesday afternoon to examine rejected and accepted affidavit ballots from the Nov. 8 election.
Panola County’s election commissioners had accepted 32 affidavit ballots — 17 for Darby and 15 for Griffin — in the General Election.

A total of 93 affidavits were cast according to election commissioner Ronald McMinn.

Among absentee ballots, unofficial returns showed 1,281 absentee ballots were accepted in the Nov. 8 election — 695 cast for Darby and 586 for Griffin.

The second day of canvassing unfolded at the courthouse in Batesville, where Griffin and his attorney examined approximately 10 ballot boxes and their supply boxes over a period of four hours.

Circuit Clerk Joe Reid had moved the second day of canvassing from the county boardroom to the courtroom, where Griffin supporters complained that Reid had clamped down on the number of people who were handling ballot materials at the table.

Four Griffin supporters had sat with the sheriff and his attorney last Friday as materials were pulled from ballot boxes and supply boxes while several more, seated an arm’s length away, dutifully recorded vote totals as they were announced.

On Wednesday Griffin supporters sat in the audience with ink pens at the ready but struggled to hear any around-the-table discussions some 20 feet away.

Darby supporters, who numbered about ten, were also out of earshot of most of the proceedings during the canvassing of ballot boxes.

Proceedings weren’t entirely quiet: Reid rattled off numbers on seals used to secure ballot boxes and Edward Peacock, a fellow attorney helping Luckett, called out vote totals recorded on the voting machine tapes.

Griffin supporters were writing down printout totals and security seal numbers last week.

At one point Wednesday morning Luckett and Bowen briefly discussed an absentee ballot that had been left inside the envelope and seemed to be uncounted, Darby supporters recalled.

A reporter was out of the courtroom when the attorneys disagreed over what to do with the envelope and the ballot.

The supporters said Bowen told Luckett to “just let the court decide that,” the only hint that an election trial is forthcoming.  

Observers in the audience described the conversation as “blunt” and said it was the second uncounted absentee ballot that Luckett claimed to have discovered. The first one was found last Friday, they said.  

In the hallway outside the courtroom, Griffin supporters took turns telling a TV reporter that Griffin had won the election and the canvassing would prove him the winner.

One supporter, Sandra Williams, told the Memphis reporter that a ballot box had gone missing and mysteriously turned up again.

Asked by a Panolian reporter about the ballot box she claimed went missing, she refused to elaborate as she walked away.  

“That’s what you get paid for,” she said.

Asked about the possibility of a contested election, Bowen said the Nov. 8 election results were among the “cleanest” he has witnessed.

“I don’t see anything that would warrant that,” he said.