Altered Ballot

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 16, 2011

Democrat tight-lipped over who altered ballots

By Billy Davis

A political tug-of-war is limping along in Panola County, where two Democrats still want to know who within their own party worked to elect their opponents in the General Election.

The Panolian has reported that a sample ballot began circulating the weekend before the Nov. 8 election, suggesting that Democratic voters select a pair of independent candidates over two Democrats: District 4 Supervisor Kelly Morris and John Thomas, now supervisor-elect for District 3.

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The last-minute effort failed to pay off. Morris handily won a second term among a crowded field of independents and Republicans, and Thomas defeated independent Boyce Crowell to win his first term.  

Morris and Thomas have said they want to know how the sample ballot got changed, and are demanding return of the $100 they paid to Debra Jones to print the sample ballot and pay helpers to distribute it.
They got their chance last week when they confronted Jones, the Democrat volunteer who took charge of printing and distributing the ballots  — and who also collected candidates’ money.

At a meeting with Morris and Thomas, Jones refused to name the people who took the sample ballot from her and altered it, said Rufus Manley, who chairs the Panola County Democratic Party.

Manley reported on the meeting with Jones at a regular meeting of Panola County Democrats, held December 8 at the Como Public Library.

“They asked Ms. Jones and she would not say,” Manley told the gathering of about 15 Democrats in the library’s meeting room.

Jones, who did not attend the Democratic meeting, had no comment when reached at her home in Batesville by a reporter.

Morris attended the Democratic meeting, but Thomas did not, after confronting Jones earlier in the day.

At the meeting, Morris described how some of the original sample ballots were distributed both before and on Election Day. But he said other sample ballots that marked the independent candidates were handed out from vans that shuttled voters to the polls.

Fellow Democrats listened as Morris and another supervisor-elect, Cole Flint, complained that Jones promised to oversee a last-minute voter drive before Election Day.

Democratic campaign workers were supposed to pass out sample ballots on two Saturdays, October 29 and Nov. 5, before the Nov. 8 election. But the workers didn’t work October 29 and passed out the ballots for only half a day on Nov. 5, said Morris.

Flint said about 60 volunteers were set to come to Panola County October 29 for a voter drive to help Johnny DuPree, the Democratic nominee for governor.

“That first push never happened,” Flint told the other Democrats.

“Debra said she would take ‘full responsibility’ if I paid my hundred dollars,” said Flint. “I didn’t want to give up the money. Now I know why.”

The gathering of Democrats also heard from Steve Hale, the Tate County senator-elect who won a hard-fought election battle for the District 10 state senate seat.

Hale, who also ponied up $100 to Jones, pointed out that three voter initiatives on the Democratic sample ballot — voter ID, imminent domain and the personhood amendment — had been marked before they were distributed.

“The initiatives should have been separate because there are varied views,” Hale told the group.

“Our own Democratic candidate for governor had a view opposite of one that was marked,” Hale added. “And quite frankly I did, too.”

Manley reported that Jones paid the campaign workers $15 to $20 each to pass out sample ballots, then paid for a pizza lunch for the workers at Pizza Hut. The money she collected also went to pay for food for Democratic workers manning a phone bank, he said.

Manley and other Democrats suggested at the meeting that Jones had acted independently of the Panola County Democratic Party when she collected $100 from Democratic candidates — more than 10 local Democrats were listed on the Nov. 8 ballot.  

“She’s liable for all of it,” said Perry Massey, who sits on the Panola County Democratic Executive Committee.

Another meeting attendee, Robert “BB” Lee, went farther and said Jones was not responsible for the altered ballots because she didn’t change the names.

“I’m sorry for what happened,” Lee told Manley. “But these people need to be complaining elsewhere.”

Lee unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for District 3 supervisor then campaigned for Crowell over Thomas in the General Election.

“I’m a party person but I always go to the person who is better for the job,” Lee told The Panolian after the Democratic meeting.  

In front of his fellow Democrats, Manley apologized to Morris for failing to return to the December meeting with the name of the person who altered the Democratic ballot.

Manley, who said he plans to run for Batesville mayor, suggested the lingering problem with the sample ballot could hurt his chances in the mayoral race. Manley formerly served as Batesville alderman.