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Franklin County poll workers, commissioner face charges

NATCHEZ — Poll workers and an election commissioner in Franklin County are facing voter fraud charges stemming from the Nov. 3 general election at the Bude precinct.

Franklin County Sheriff James Newman said Circuit Judge Forrest “Al” Johnson issued warrants for their arrests on Friday, and all five posted $100 bond the same day to be released from the county jail.

Charged were Ann Reed, 59, of Meadville, Margie McNair, 61, of Bude and Dona Jones, 66, of Meadville. The three are each accused of violating a state elections law forbidding “dishonest decisions by managers” of polling places “concerning qualifications of voters.”

McNair is listed on the secretary of state’s website as the Franklin County District 3 election commissioner.

Anita Leonard, a Republican Party poll watcher, alleges the women did not check voter qualifications.

Leonard is one of two people who filed the charges.

State law says if an election manager knowingly permits an unqualified person to vote or prohibits a qualified person from voting, the manager may face jail time of up to three months, a fine of up to $200 or both.

Also facing charges are Prentiss Harris, 65, and Gloria Smith, 67, both of Bude.

Harris and Smith are accused of breaking a state law prohibiting an election officer from aiding or influencing a voter in preparing a ballot. If found guilty they could be fined not less than $10 and not more than $200.

All of the women were reportedly working the Bude precinct on Election Day.

Leonard and Carl Cupit, both Republican Party observers at the precinct, filed the charges on Nov. 13.

Leonard said earlier this month she saw poll workers going beyond what is allowed in helping voters.

Leonard also alleged that the poll workers weren’t properly checking voters’ identification.

The alleged discrepancies in the Bude precinct come as Sen. Melanie Sojourner, R-Natchez, is preparing to examine ballot boxes in Franklin and Adams County in her close loss to Democrat Bob Dearing of Natchez in the Senate District 37 race.

Dearing, a Democrat who held the seat for 32 years before Sojourner defeated him four years ago, won his seat back from Sojourner by a 62-vote margin.

Dearing carried Adams and Franklin counties in the election.

Sojourner said Tuesday she received a phone call from one of the poll watchers prior to the affidavits being filed letting her know they were looking into the alleged wrongdoings.

“Both of them are really active in our party … and made me aware they were looking into something,” she said.

Sojourner said she is proud the poll watchers have come forward to ensure integrity in the election process.

“If voters can’t trust an election, how can they trust anything we do as a government or as elected officials,” she said.Sojourner said she has not decided if she will officially challenge the results of the election.

“Look, I don’t have any desire whatsoever to drag myself or my family or Sen. Dearing and his family through some long-drawn out (process),” Sojourner said. “But my first obligation is to the integrity of the system.”

Dearing said he is confident in the competency of Franklin County election officials.

“Honestly, I have all the confidence that the election officials have done nothing wrong,” he said.

Dearing said it was too early to speculate on a possible challenge of the results by Sojourner.

“I’m going to cross that bridge when I get to it,” he said.

 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

 

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