Judge tosses results in clerk race dispute

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, October 24, 2007

PRENTISS – The results of the Democratic primary election heldfor Jefferson Davis County Circuit Clerk have been set aside and anew election ordered by a specially appointed circuit court judge.The order comes two weeks before the general election and leaveslocal and state officials not sure of how to handle the judge’sorder.

In his ruling on a complaint filed by Clint Langley againstNadine Thompson and the Jefferson Davis County Democratic ExecutiveCommittee, Judge Forrest Johnson cited improper votes andsignificant problems with absentee and affidavit ballots as thebasis for his decision to throw out the election. All other racesin the primary are not affected.

Local election officials are unsure of the next step with only14 days remaining before the Nov. 6 General Election.

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“We have a call into the Secretary of State’s office to ask whathappens next,” Alcee Stallings said Tuesday afternoon. Stallings ischairman of the Jefferson Davis Democratic Executive Committee.

The Secretary of State’s office is also not clear on the nextstep. Tuesday afternoon, a spokesman for the Secretary of State’soffice threw the election issue back to the judge.

“In consultation with the Attorney General’s office, we believethe judge should clarify his order and set a schedule for which anew primary election should be held,” said Kell Smith of theSecretary of State’s office.

While Judge Johnson’s order sets aside the circuit clerk race itdoes not include any other races. All other certified candidates inother races will remain as the Democrat Party nominees, accordingto the judge’s administrative assistant.

The ruling comes after a three-day trial in Prentiss in earlyOctober. Langley challenged the election after losing the AugustDemocratic Primary to Thompson by a 26-vote margin. Twenty-sevenwitnesses testified in the trial that ended on Oct. 12.

In his ruling, the judge said there were at least 26 impropervotes and cited, “clear evidence of significant problems withabsentee ballots and affidavit ballots.”

Judge Johnson went on to say the court was left with a “clearand distinct finding that the will of the voters cannot beascertained from the primary election…”

The specially appointed circuit court judge from Natchez citedirregularities in absentee ballots, affidavit ballots and twoballots that were fraudulently voted – one by an individual who wasin a Hattiesburg hospital on election day and the other by anindividual who was deceased on election day.

The judge cited documentation on 15 absentee ballots that wereimproperly witnessed by Nadine Thompson as a “clear violation” ofMississippi law.

Judge Johnson’s ruling also cited “significant departures” fromstate election laws as an issue in the Democratic primary. Thejudge criticized the handling of some absentee ballots by currentCircuit Clerk Jeri Landry, as well as the handling of affidavitvotes on election night by Stallings.

Affidavit ballots are used when a voter’s name does not appearon a polling book on election day. State law requires affidavitballots to be voted, but not counted until the next day when theballot is verified during the certification process.

Judge Johnson cited instances where the ballots were countedbefore being properly verified by the Democratic ExecutiveCommittee.

The judge also criticized the county executive committee for ashortage of members and confusion during the vote counting andtallying process.

“It is obvious to the court that there was much confusion in thevote counting and tallying process the night of the election, whichwent on until about 5 a.m. the next day,” the judge said.

Judge Johnson’s complete ruling can be found athttp://www.dailyleader.net/1e562940.pdf