Ballots identified in first day of mayoral contest  

Attorney William Starks asks Election Commissioner Jim McKell to identify ballots being submitted as evidence during court Monday. (Photos by Logan Kirkland, SDN)
Attorney Jim Mozingo asks the Poll Manager for Ward 1 Carla Jones about the tally sheet taken on the night of the election during court Monday
By: 
Logan Kirkland
Staff Writer

After a full day in court, seven ballots are in question by Democratic candidate Johnny Moore after current Mayor Lynn Spruill was certified as the winner of the May 2017 Democratic Primary for the city's highest office

Two of the votes listed are absentee ballots, the remainder are affidavit ballots.


THE BEGINNING

Five of the election commission members were called to the jury stand by Special Judge Barry Ford to take notes and advise the court after the trial, based on the witnesses who took the stand. Each member was provided materials to take notes during the trial.
Attorney Jim Mozingo, representing Spruill, asked to not allow the counting of ballots in any box, other than the ones in Ward 3. 

Attorney William Starks, representing Moore, said in their initial petition, they mentioned irregularities in the vote counting process.

"We've always questioned the count and how it was counted," Starks said. "We provided a spreadsheet showing ward by ward each of those."

In the responses, Starks said the certification says Spruill won with six votes, when their count shows the total should be five rather than six. He said they have asserted error in Wards 1, 3 and 6.

Starks said in Ward 1, there was a vote counted in Spruill's column based on a ballot that was marked as none of the above. In Ward 3, Starks said there is a one-vote difference for each candidate, one vote less for Moore and additional for Spruill if recounted and in Ward 6, there is one additional ballot for Moore and one less for Spruill.

After looking at all wards in questions, Starks said the margin of the vote should total out to five votes rather than six.

Starks called Starkville City Clerk Lesa Harden to the witness stand, then called for all of the ballot boxes to be brought into the courtroom.

Ford allowed all of the ballot boxes to be kept in the Oktibbeha County Circuit Court vault for the remainder of the hearing, but not all of the boxes would be submitted as evidence. 


TALLY SHEET

Poll manager for Ward 1 Carla Jones was called to the stand as a witness to discuss the tally sheet marked during the night of the election.

Tally sheets are used during paper ballot elections to put the votes on paper. The example provided by Jones was that a person would call out the candidate who received the vote, and they would mark the tally. 

She said two people are doing the tally sheet to help prove a mistake was not made. If a mistake was made, they would go back and recount the votes.

Starks asked Jones if there was a column for anyone other than Spruill or Moore, and Jones responded there is no other column on the tally sheet.

Starks pointed out on one of the tally sheets, there is a third line with something X'd out below the name of Lynn Spruill.

"Yes sir, it's marked out,"Jones said.

On the first tally sheet, Starks said the document shows there was a total of 204 votes, but there was a three marked out and four was placed on top of it.

"Do you know why it was changed from a three to a four?" Starks asked.

"I can only assume, I'm not sure," Jones said.

Jones was asked by Starks to remove an envelope from the ballot box, which was labeled accepted ballots. 

Jones pulled out the ballot and said there was a ballot marked “none of the above,” saying the person was voting for neither candidate and drew a sad face.

"There's no name for either one of them," Jones said. "So, we cannot give that vote to either one of them."

On the ballot, Starks pointed out there was handwriting that said "this one count, but no who.”

Jones said it looked like her handwriting, but felt the vote couldn't be counted.

There was an additional scratch sheet of paper in the box, not in Jones' handwriting, that said "Lynn with the number 203 beside it and below it in red, it says +1 and 204."

Starks said he believes the ballot was counted for Spruill and asked to move all 204 ballots into evidence, but Judge Ford would only allow it to be admitted for identification purposes.

BALLOTS IN QUESTION

A ballot cast from an address at Lakeside Student Living Apartments, was rejected the night of the election. 

Ward 3 Poll Manager David Boles said if the person voting did not show up on their voter roll, they would check to make sure if they were at the designated facility. He said if they were an inactive voter, they would fill out an affidavit ballot.

He said they are given a checklist on whether to reject or accept ballots on certain criteria.

Boles said this ballot did not have a reason as to why it was rejected. When asked why it was rejected, Boles said he had "no idea."

Starks called Toby Sanford, a GIS manager of the Golden Triangle Planning and Development District, who provided maps for the addresses of two ballots in question. The maps showed the two ballots are within the city limits.

One affidavit ballot not counted belonged to David Moore, who was called to the witness stand. Moore said his address was on Highway 182 West, which was earlier stated in the court that it was interchangeable with Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. 

Moore said he was not in the poll books and told him to fill out an affidavit ballot.

"This is what they told me to do for the address, because they claimed that 1108 Highway 182 was not in the city, so that's why I wasn't on the list, but it is," Moore said.

Election Commissioner Jim McKell was brought to the witness stand to identify one ballot that Starks felt was rejected without reason with handwriting saying "not in poll book". On the front side of the envelope it read "No Apt number, could have been (returned)," which McKell said was in his handwriting. 

He said they listed their address as Southdale, which is in the city limits, but also shows an old address in their court system. He said this person was listed as an inactive voter. The rebuttal to the argument from Mozigno was the system shows the person last voted in Vicksburg a couple of years prior to this election.

McKell said the address listed on this voter's registration shows a city address, but the verification card was sent to the wrong address. McKell said they should have tried to notify the voter in a  different way. He said he didn't see why the vote shouldn't have been counted.

The next ballot in question had a handwritten note saying it was rejected, but there was a notation the person was an inactive voter on the front side. The voter card was returned as undeliverable. Although, the address on the affidavit matches the same on the voter's registration, McKell said he doesn't see why it was rejected, because it was marked as accepted first, then marked as rejected.

Another ballot Starks added to evidence was one that was rejected because the voter changed addresses, but one was supposedly a business and not a residence.

McKell said he made a call the night of the election to the voter to clarify the address change within the city limits. McKell said the voter's wife answered the phone and the voter was in Baton Rouge, Louisiana but never returned the phone call.

He said no other person was contacted over the phone over their address on the night of the election.

Starks submitted another ballot where McKell said the city address "appears to be valid" and the system the commission was using potentially did not have the updated address. 

Lastly, Starks brought up a ballot where the voter changed their address from Lynn Lane to Leigh Lane. McKell said it’s possible the person registered too late moving from the county to the city. Mozingo pointed out the system shows the address for Brooksville, Mississippi.

The case will resume today at 8:00 a.m.

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