County election hearing continues

Published 12:56 am Friday, November 16, 2007

WOODVILLE — Those who filled the Wilkinson County Courthouse seats to see exciting testimony Thursday in the election contest trial were disappointed.

Trial players spent most of the afternoon opening metal poll boxes and examining their contents.

The poll boxes contained, among other things, blank ballots, completed paper ballots, empty envelopes, and several unmarked envelopes wit papers inside.

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Soft-sided bags, one for each precinct, containing election materials also contained ballots and paperwork. One bag contained more than a dozen tally sheets from various other precincts.

No ballots were counted Thursday. The bailiff announced a description for the record of each item in each box and bag. The examination was for identification purposes only, appointed Judge Jim Persons said. Persons ordered the boxes and bags be opened in open court after the plaintiffs filed a motion Thursday morning to sequester the ballots.

Ben Piazza Jr., representing supervisor District 2 candidate Kirk Smith, said he and his fellow attorneys were worried because Circuit Clerk Mon Cree Allen, who is one of the defendants, refused to give up the ballots. There also was some concern the ballots might be removed from the courthouse, he said.

“It’s never happened to my knowledge, a circuit clerk has refused to provide election contents in an election contest,” Piazza said.

The judge said his actions were independent of the motion.

Defense attorneys said the move was only impugning Allen and was, among other things, outside the court’s jurisdiction.

Allen and other defendants have chosen to plead the Fifth Amendment, preventing self-incrimination.

Defense attorney Deborah McDonald said if Allen presented the ballots and election materials, it would be a form of testifying.

The judge acknowledged the argument but issued the order.

“The court recognizes that right (against self-incrimination),” Persons said. “It’s a valuable right we all as citizens have. On the other hand, my responsibility is to see these election issues resolved in a timely manner. Germane to seeing election contests are ballot boxes. No court can resolve those issues unless the ballots can be determined as valid or invalid.”

The judge also ordered the ballots be removed from the chancery clerk’s office and placed into the custody of the Mississippi Highway Patrol.

After Thursday’s proceedings, Piazza said he and others have attempted to review the ballot boxes’ contents before but have been unsuccessful and restricted to a small window of time.

In the limited time they were allowed, he said, they found some boxes empty.

All boxes and bags had contents in Thursday’s proceedings.

Court will continue at 9 a.m. today.