Panola election allegations now in hands of Attorney General

A deadline for contesting the November 24 special election in District 2 arrived Monday without a formal challenge by losing candidate William Pride.

The now-gone deadline means the election results will stand, enabling incumbent county supervisor Vernice Avant to complete the four-year term of her late husband, Robert.

She was sworn into office December 7 at supervisors’ First District meeting in Sardis.

Mrs. Avant narrowly defeated Pride in a runoff, winning by 144 votes of 1,402 votes cast, according to official election results.

Pride immediately alleged illegal election-related activities on Election Day and said afterward he was weighing whether to contest the election results.

But the Batesville businessman told The Panolian last week, as the deadline loomed, that a court fight over a special election would likely bump into the regular election cycle, now a year and a half away.

Faced with such a scenario, Pride announced last Friday he would not contest the election results.

Pride’s decision leaves the matter in the hands of Mississippi officials, Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann and Attorney General Jim Hood, as well as District Attorney John Champion.

The Panolian has reported that Hosemann’s office sent two election observers to the polls for the run-off election. Each observer compiled a six-page report that did include questionable activities.

Poll workers for Pride have also provided written accounts of questionable activity they observed on Election Day, and his campaign workers also snapped photos of fresh gravel that had been dumped and spread on 40 driveway entrances in District 2 days before the runoff.

Pride’s campaign is questioning whether the gravel was dumped and spread by county workers in exchange for votes, though no county forces were photographed performing the work.

The written statements and photos have since been sent to the secretary of state and the attorney general.

Another piece of alleged evidence was also sent to Jackson: a four-minute video that shows election commissioner Julius Harris handling what appears to be 25 to 30 absentee envelopes.

The video was secretly taped in Sardis at the North Delta Enterprise Community, the non-profit where Harris is employed.

In the video, Harris is seen sitting alone at a table with the absentee envelopes stacked around him, with several more envelopes stacked in a desk drawer.

Harris, the District 2 election commissioner, has denied to The Panolian that he handled absentee ballots prior to Election Day or that he was a campaign worker for Mrs. Avant.

Among the poll workers’ observations were that Harris was seen driving voters to the polls.

Champion, the district attorney, said Friday he had received information in the mail related to Pride’s allegations that day. The information came from the secretary of state’s office, he said.

“Typically election fraud is handled by the attorney general’s office,” not through the district attorney, said Champion.

The Panolian
12/15/9