Voter fraud charges against poll workers, election commissioner dismissed
Published 12:03 am Thursday, March 24, 2016
MEADVILLE — Voter fraud charges against a Franklin County election commissioner and four poll watchers stemming from the Nov. 3, 2015, general election were dismissed Thursday.
Franklin County Election Commissioner Margie McNair and Bude precinct poll workers Julie Ann Reed, Dona Jones, Gloria Smith and Prentiss Harris were all charged.Special Assistant Attorney General Bob Anderson of the Attorney General’s Office told Justice Court Judge Roger Arnold the state had no grounds to proceed with the case because the defendants were granted immunity from criminal prosecution by the Mississippi Senate.
The Senate granted McNair, Reed, Jones, Smith and Harris immunity when they testified before the senate committee that heard former District 37 Sen. Melanie Sojourner’s petition to challenge the results of the election in which she was narrowly defeated by Sen. Bob Dearing. The senate committee upheld Dearing’s victory.
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Reed, McNair and Jones were accused of violating a state elections law forbidding “dishonest decisions by managers” of polling places “concerning qualifications of voters.”
Republican poll watchers Anita Leonard and Carl Cupit brought the charges in the case, and Leonard alleged the women did not check voter qualifications.
Harris and Smith were accused of breaking a state law prohibiting an election officer from aiding or influencing a voter in preparing a ballot.
The women previously entered not guilty pleas in the case.
Before dismissing the case, Arnold emphasized the importance of protecting voters’ rights.
“Ladies … one thing I want to say, and this is not me saying anyone is guilty, because we are not having a trial,” he said. “But each individual sitting in this courtroom, we don’t have many rights left in this world, but everyone has the right to go into a voting precinct and vote our conscience. No one has the right to ask us to vote their conscience.”
Once the charges were dismissed, Arnold asked Leonard and Cupit, who were present in the courtroom, whether they understood the proceedings that had taken place.
Cupit said when he and Leonard met with the prosecution, they were not aware the defendants could be granted immunity.
“Nonetheless, we would still (have) filed the charges,” he said.
Leonard asked why the charges had been dismissed, and Judge Arnold again explained the statute that allowed the Senate to grant immunity.
Leonard said after the hearing she did not agree with the outcome of the case.
“Immunity from prosecution is not the same as being innocent,” she said. “I know what I saw, and I saw the law being broken.”
McNair, Reed, Jones, Smith and Harris maintain their innocence, and McNair said she thinks the women were unfairly targeted.
On the day of the election, McNair said, she had to call the sheriff’s office after Leonard refused to move from a seat that McNair said was interrupting the flow of voter traffic. McNair said she thinks that was Leonard’s motivation for bringing the charges.
Regardless of motivation, the women said they are happy the case is behind them.
“We are very satisfied, and we thank God,” Reed said.