Votes may not count

Published 11:18 pm Thursday, September 6, 2007

WOODVILLE — A majority of the members of the Wilkinson County Democratic Executive Committee voted to throw out many of the votes cast in the contested Aug. 7 election.

Seventeen members of the sharply divided Democratic Committee gathered in a funeral home across the street from the county courthouse Thursday morning because they said they had been told they would be arrested on charges of trespassing if they entered the courtroom.

The gathering had the stated purpose of deciding a rule for candidates who want to contest the Aug. 7 election and declaring the winners of the election, but before the meeting could begin word was sent across the street that they would be allowed in the courtroom.

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When they arrived at the courtroom, the group appointed committee member William Johnson chair pro temp for the meeting because the Democratic Committee officially recognized chair, Easter Prater, was not present at the time.

However, as the group was appointing an acting secretary for the meeting, Prater arrived and said she had already set four separate hearing dates for candidates who wish to contest the election.

The candidates contesting the election are circuit clerk candidate Lynn Delaney, sheriff candidate Jessie Stewart and supervisors candidates Wally Cavin and Kirk Smith.

The dates Prater had set were Sept. 27 for Delaney, Oct. 4 for Stewart, Oct. 14 for Smith and Oct. 21 for Cavin.

The candidates filed their contest paperwork Aug. 22, and the Thursday meeting was set by 16 of the committee’s 31 members — a one vote majority — Aug. 28.

Prater set the four separate hearing dates the next day.

Attorneys for the candidates opposite those contesting the election, Circuit Clerk Mon Cree Allen, Sheriff Reginald “Pip” Jackson, Supervisor Richard Hollins and Supervisor Richard Morgan, objected to the hearing because their clients had not been notified of the allegations against them and had not been given the required five days notice of the contest.

There was also some dispute between the committee and the lawyers as to whether or not candidates had been notified of the hearing.

Lawyers for the opposition candidates acknowledged the candidates were notified of the hearing Aug. 31, but said state law excludes weekends and holidays — including Labor Day — and so the candidates were technically only given two days notice.

Counsel for the candidates contesting the election said election contests are exempt from such requirements.

The 17 committee members conducting the hearing voted to adopt the standard Mississippi Code concerning election contests as their rule, and Johnson said the objections of the attorneys would be noted in the minutes but the hearing would continue.

Allen’s lawyer Debra McDonald, of Natchez, said the circuit clerk hearing could not continue because Allen was not present because he had a doctor’s appointment.

“If we are going to follow the rule of law, we need to follow the rule of law and not just pretend we are following the law, which is what you are doing,” McDonald said. “This is a kangaroo court.”

Johnson reiterated the committee’s determination to continue the proceeding.

“We are going to proceed with what our crude understanding of the law is,” he said.

After that point, the counsel representing the opposition candidates left the courtroom and did not return.

When Dennis Horn, an attorney representing Stewart, tried to subpoena the elections from the circuit clerk’s office, there was only one deputy clerk in the office, and she did not reportedly have a key to access the elections materials.

The attorneys representing the candidates contesting the election, as well as Delaney, Smith and Stewart themselves all gave testimony of reported evidence of — among other things — voter fraud and even vote buying in the election.

Candidate Wally Cavin did not speak at the meeting.

Once the testimonies were completed, the committee went into executive session, where it was decided all of the paper ballots — absentee, affidavit and curbside ballots — in the election would be thrown out.

With those votes thrown out, Delaney, Smith and Stewart are the winners in their respective races.

The committee will soon certify the election without the paper ballots, a source who was in the courtroom at that time said.

The committee believes the previous election certification was not valid because a majority of the Democratic Committee did not reportedly vote to certify the results, the source said.