Senate winner still unclear

Published 12:03 am Friday, November 6, 2015

NATCHEZ — While both Senate District 37 candidates claim to have a lead in the unresolved race, more than 300 still uncounted affidavit ballots in Pike County mean the election likely will not be resolved until at least Tuesday.

Sen. Melanie Sojourner, R-Natchez, and former Sen. Bob Dearing, D-Natchez, are in a statistical dead heat with 50 percent of in-person voting from Tuesday’s election each. Sojourner has 8,038 votes in the unofficial tally, while Dearing has 7,957, making the race too close to call until absentee and affidavit ballots are counted.

Adams County’s absentee votes were counted Thursday, but the unofficial results have not been released because the results have not yet been entered into the electronic elections system, Election Commissioner Larry Gardner said.

Email newsletter signup

“We have 25 different ballot styles we have to enter into the system, and the information sheet for each precinct is three pages, so that’s 75 pages of data I have to enter by hand,” Gardner said.

“Results aren’t instantaneous when you have a whole lot of people standing over your shoulder demanding results, especially when a race is going to be this close.”

Dearing watched the count in Adams County Tuesday and said he believes he has a 60-vote lead based on what he observed. Sojourner said by her count she has a 32-vote lead.

But Pike County has 307 affidavit ballots that are still being canvassed, a process that has to be completed before the counting of the affidavits can begin.

Only three of the 12 Pike precincts that fall in District 37 have been canvassed, and 26 of the 38 affidavits from those three precincts have been accepted, Sojourner said.

“Statistically 1/3 of all affidavits will be rejected,” she said. “There are an average of eight affidavits per precinct, and if we are in 12 precincts, using the statistical average Sen. Dearing and I will have 96 affidavits that are in our precincts.”

The problem is the canvassing process in Pike County will have to take a break tomorrow.

“They are not working tomorrow because (the election commission in Pike County) shares an office with the public defender, and they have a hearing (Friday), so they are not counting,” she said.

Dearing said he had been told the process would resume Monday and vote counting would likely begin Tuesday.

“It is a long process, but it has to be done,” he said.

Sojourner said she knows voters want answers and are feeling impatient, but election integrity is everything.

“If that means, under the current process, it has to be slow to be accurate, then that is what we need to do,” she said.