Committee recertifies incumbent

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 14, 2003

WOODVILLE &045; By a 23-4 vote Thursday, the Wilkinson County Democratic Executive Committee recertified incumbent Kirk Smith as the winner of the Aug. 26 runoff election for District 2 supervisor.

However, challenger Richard Hollins will seek judicial review of the committee’s decision, according to his attorney, Carroll Rhodes of Hazlehurst.

Rhodes and committee chairman Don Walsh &045; also an attorney &045; immediately clashed over Hollins’ request to call witnesses at the hearing in the Wilkinson County Courthouse.

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&uot;The only witnesses will be called by the committee,&uot; Walsh said, basing his ruling on advice from the state attorney generals’ office.

Walsh then instructed Rhodes to present the allegations in Hollins’ petition, allowing him to question some committee members and poll workers who were present.

Rhodes withdrew the first two allegations in the petition after hearing sworn testimony from poll workers that they had attended a training seminar. Rhodes nixed a third allegation after a poll worker denied calling voters and encouraging them to vote for Smith on election day.

And the committee conceded poll workers had improperly turned away two high school seniors who tried to vote.

Officials said the students’ 18th birthdays were near enough to the November general election to make them eligible to vote in the primary.

But the proceedings grew more contentious when Walsh refused to allow the committee to rule on whether four ballots from the Fort Adams precinct were properly rejected by poll workers.

&uot;I don’t think the committee has the authority to rule on that,&uot; Walsh said.

&uot;Or it doesn’t have the guts to,&uot; Rhodes replied.

Later, Walsh refused to allow Rhodes to question a committee member about challenged absentee ballots.

&uot;They (committee members) cannot vote on their own testimony,&uot; Walsh said.

Rhodes then told Walsh the petition was &uot;detailed enough&uot; and began gathering his files from the table. &uot;The committee can do what it wants,&uot; he said.

Walsh then vacated the courtroom for an executive session, where the committee deliberated for 30 minutes before re-certifying the original election results.

Outside the courtroom, Rhodes indicated Hollins would appeal the committee’s ruling.

&uot;That’s a kangaroo court.

We’re going to the real court now,&uot; Rhodes said.

Hollins and Smith entered the runoff after a tie was declared between the two candidates in the Aug. 5 primary election.

Smith was declared the winner of the runoff election by 11-votes.

Hollins was allowed to examine the ballots last week and claims that he should have been certified the winner by an 18-vote margin.