Judge: Workers wrong to reject some ballots

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 31, 2003

WOODVILLE &045; Reversing the results of a contested election in Wilkinson County, a judge ruled Monday that poll workers lacked proof of fraud or wrongful intent and therefore erred in rejecting some absentee and affidavit ballots.

After hearing testimony in the dispute and personally inspecting the ballot boxes, Hinds County Chancellor Denise Owens declared Richard Hollins the winner in the District 2 Supervisor race by three votes.

The Wilkinson County Democratic Executive Committee had previously certified incumbent Supervisor Kirk Smith as the winner by an 11-vote margin.

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In a 14-page ruling, Owens awarded 20 rejected ballots to Hollins and six others to Smith. The action left Hollins with 519 votes to Smith’s 516 votes.

Meanwhile, Smith’s lawyers were reviewing the ruling and leaving open the possibility of an appeal on Tuesday morning.

&uot;It would be my recommendation at this point to appeal this decision to the state Supreme Court. But I still have to sit down with my client and see how he feels,&uot; Natchez attorney John R. Junkin II said.

Noting that absentee and affidavit ballots are strictly regulated by state law, Owens said ballots that failed to include an address, date of attestation or notarization were properly rejected.

&uot;Still, those firm requirements aside, mere technical irregularities in the casting of a ballot are not grounds for invalidation absent evidence of fraud or intentional wrongdoing,&uot; Owens said.

Owens reasoned that some voters who were recently transferred to new precincts as a result of the redistricting process were previously registered and should have been allowed to vote. Other ballots rejected or challenged because of confusion over signatures or married names should have also been accepted, she said.

Regarding still other challenged absentee ballots, however, Owens said only she had reviewed the ballots and found them acceptable.

Owens was appointed by the state Supreme Court to hear the case after Hollins claimed pollworkers improperly rejected ballots, among other allegations.

Owens heard eight hours of testimony in the case Wednesday at the Wilkinson County Courthouse and returned to Woodville on Sunday to inspected the contents of the ballot boxes, according to Wilkinson County Circuit Clerk Mon Allen.

Following Owens’ ruling on Monday, Allen said he ordered ballots printed with Hollins’ name included as the Democratic nominee for District 2 supervisor.

Since no independent or Republican candidates qualified &045; and barring intervention by the state Supreme Court &045; Hollins will be uncontested in the Nov. 4 general election.