Doty to help with election snafu

Published 10:40 am Friday, January 8, 2016

Sen. Sally Doty, R-Brookhaven, is currently serving on a committee that will help decide the outcome of neighboring congressional District 37’s election, which has been challenged by incumbent Sen. Melanie Sojourner (R) after she lost the race by 64 votes.

Sojourner won the Republican primary and was the Republican nominee facing Democratic nominee Bob M. Dearing for Senate District 37.

Sen. Sally Doty

Sen. Sally Doty

On Nov. 13 the election results were certified with Sojourner receiving 8,154 votes and Dearing with 8,218 — a margin of only 64 votes. On Dec. 2, Sojourner filed an election challenge.

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Sojourner defeated Dearing for the seat that includes parts of Adams, Amite, Franklin and Pike counties in 2011. Dearing had held the seat for 32 years.

Doty is one of five legislators chosen, one from each congressional district, by Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves to serve on the election challenge committee. Only one is a Democrat.

Doty said when an election is challenged, a committee is formed to hear in a formal court-like setting (though with differences in order to provide as much evidence to all involved), which will decide if the challenge has merit and what the outcome will be.

Doty said only a few challenges have been made in the past 30 years, each with different outcomes — the challenger was seated, the responding party was seated and/or there was another vote held. New elections may be held in one, a few or all of the voting precincts.

“We want to make sure we get all of the facts and information in front of us,” Doty said. “It is so important to protect the integrity of the vote — and we will be deciding who got the most votes.”

It sounds simple enough, but there are factors that can add questions to any election result.

Sojourner’s stance is that illegal activities carried out during voting in several precincts muddled the result. The petition states that on Nov. 13 Anita Leonard, a poll watcher for the Republican party at the Bude precinct in Franklin County during the Nov. 3 general election, and Carl Cupit, the bailiff at the Bude precinct in Franklin County during the Aug. 4 primary election, filed criminal charges against four poll workers and an election commissioner who worked at the Bude precinct.

The sworn statements allege that the charged criminal defendants knowingly violated the law, including: poll workers illegally offering voter assistance to those who had not requested it and were not blind, physically disabled or illiterate; poll worker attempting to guide, aid, direct or influence voters; violating the secrecy of the ballot and poll workers illegally entering the polling booth or voting machine alone with voters.

Cupit’s statement, according to the petition, “provides eyewitness testimony to a fraudulent pattern of violations occurring during the 2014 primary and runoff elections, as well as the 2015 primary and runoff and references the fact that the Mississippi Secretary of State’s office sent a representative to poll watch during both 2015 elections. This representative specifically admonished one of the accused poll workers, telling her she could not go behind the voting machine with voters, unless strictly following the law.

Dearing’s response states “The petition includes no allegation and cites no evidence that any of the conduct alleged in the petition, even if it had occurred, resulted in any change as to any voter concerning who the voter intended to vote for, and did vote for, in the Senate District 37 general election.”

The response goes on to state that Dearing denies that Sojourner is entitled to any relief, and she has not and cannot present the required clear and convincing evidence that the outcome of the Senate District 37 general election was anything other than the outcome that was certified, and that he received the most lawful votes.

In an election where there are illegal votes, only the illegal votes are dismissed, and the election is determined by the remaining legal votes.

Doty said she expects the majority of the proceedings, which are open to the public, to happen next week. Doty also said she expects a good bit of debate.