Recount will not affect other races or Aug. 27 runoff election
Four Coahoma County Democratic candidates are asking for an examination of ballot boxes for a wide range of reasons, including alleged voter fraud and polling place errors following the Aug. 6 primary election.
No Republicans or independents filed for any of the four offices, so the winner of the Democratic primary will be slated to serve the next four years beginning January 2020. Counts being challenged include Sheriff, Tax Assessor/Collector and District 4 and District 5 Supervisor races.
Ten-year incumbent Sheriff Charles Jones was declared the winner of his race with 2,759 votes (50.8 percent), Mario Magsby came in second place with 2,128 (39.18 percent), and Stacy Lester finished third with 544 votes (10.01 percent).
Magsby is challenging the results since Jones barely obtained the 50-percent-plus-one-vote margin necessary to win the primary. Magsby, who missed being in a runoff Aug. 27, by less than one percent, is asking for an examination of the ballot boxes.
District 5 Board of Supervisors incumbent Will Young received 331 votes (31.22 percent) and will be in a runoff the last Tuesday in August against Roosevelt Lee, who came in second 267 votes (25.18 percent). Shirley Fair finished in third place with 257 votes (24.24 percent) and is asking for an examination of the ballot boxes.
Dr. Mary Frances Dear-Moton finished fourth in that race with 205 votes (19.33 percent). The runoff will still proceed as scheduled even if the investigative process has not been completed.
District 4 Board of Supervisors incumbent Johnny Newson, who is in his 16th year of office, defeated challenger Darron “Gucci” Griffin 514 (59.62 percent) to 348 (40.37 percent), and Griffin is challenging the count.
Griffin’s letter to Coahoma County Democratic Party chair Ray Sykes says he is, “formally requesting an opportunity to canvass all boxes and review the entire contents for all precenicts in District 4, including poll worker listings per precinct and voter’s roll per precinct. I am also requesting a list of all members managing the August 6, 2019 Democratic Election proceedings.”
Ann Williams defeated Rotosca Harris for tax assessor/tax collector 3,346 (67.60 percent) to 1,603 (32.39 percent). Harris is calling for a recount of the votes.
Sykes and Circuit Clerk Demetria Jackson could not recall a contested election since the 2007 primary for Sheriff. Jones, then a challenger to 2007 incumbent Andrew Thompson, challenged the results and a new election was held. Jones won that second election and has been Sheriff ever since.
The candidates have 12 calendar days after an election is certified to ask for a full examination of the ballot box(es) and their contents with the executive committee or election commission.
According to Jackson, elections were certified Monday, Aug. 12 and candidates have until Friday, Aug. 23 to ask for a full examination.
Candidates also have 20 calendar days after the primary election to file a petition challenging the results.
“If the candidate does not agree with the decision of the executive committee, they would have to file a petition with the court and have to have two practicing attorneys certify,” Jackson said. “Each has made a full investigation of the law and the facts in the matter.”
The filing fee bond is $300 and helps cover the cost of the re-count. Candidates file with the circuit court and judges may require additional fees or bonds. Then, the circuit court must notify chief justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court and a special judge will be appointed to hear issues about the election, if it gets to that point.
“Whatever comes out of that hearing would determine if a re-election would be held or not,” Jackson said.
Sykes said he heard a number of complaints about the way elections went and investigated every call.
“One thing I heard is that the machines themselves were not calibrating right in that they tried to vote for one individual, another individual showed up,” he said. “When I hear that complaint, I think about the end of the voting process where you cast the ballot. In that process of casting the ballot, it shows who everybody voted for, so maybe it was a calculation error on the machine.”
Sykes said he would consider proposing having paper ballots as another option for voters.
Another issue Sykes brought up was an election was held in the city of Clarksdale on the same day to determine whether or not a bond would pass to deal with flooding issues. The bond passed, but Sykes felt holding the election on the same day caused voter confusion.
“It was a very confusing election,” Sykes said. “You’ve got to remember that the Attorney General and Secretary of State recommended that we not do it and that it was not illegal, but when I talked to the attorney general’s office – a couple of attorneys in the office – they specifically said anybody who calls about this, I highly recommend they not have the election.
“When you do something to confuse the voter, it changes the outcome of the election,” he added. “I personally myself witnessed folks during the election that I had to plead and beg to go vote in the referendum.”
Sykes said there were no poll watchers for the city referendum election. He said most of the complaints came from places where citizens were also voting on the city referendum and he kept hearing individuals were told who to vote for in polling places. He specifically said most of the calls came from the National Guard Armory on Ritchie Avenue.
“This is the first time that we’ve had a city and a county election together, which actually threw the election off,” Sykes said. “I think that the city referendum table should have gone by the same rules as the primary.”
Sykes said he tried to talk to a couple of city commissioners about holding the referendum election on a different day, but it was too late.
The Coahoma County Democratic Party will meet at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the courthouse and all candidates have been notified.
Magsby alleged he saw issues at more than three voting precincts.
“The number of votes needed for me to get a runoff was only a handful,” he said. “We have evidence that the electronic voting machines malfunctioned to flip votes from me to other candidates.”
Magsby said he believed errors would be discovered that would require a runoff between him and Jones or a new election altogether.
“I received reports during the day (Aug. 6),” Magsby said. “Starting early that morning, I received reports of machines malfunctioning.”
Jones’ response was, “I don’t really have any thoughts. It doesn’t concern me.”
Dist. 5 Supervisor
Multiple attempts were made to reach Fair and a message was left for her, but she did not respond by press-time Wednesday.
Young declined to comment without knowing all of Fair’s concerns.
Lee respected Fair’s right to examine the boxes.
“I want to abide by the law,” he said. “That’s her right. Let her execute her right.
“I’m going about it until (offices in the city of) Jackson tells me I’m not in the runoff,” he added. “I’ll continue to campaign.”
Dist. 4 Supervisor
“There is strong evidence that voter fraud took place,” said Griffin, who is the former chair of the Coahoma County Democratic Party and a current member.
“I feel strongly based on evidence that there could have been fraud in a number of ways altered the outcome of this election.”
Griffin alleged voters received fraudulent information.
“Some voters didn’t even know where to go,” he said. “When they got to vote, they were in the wrong place and didn’t know there were changes that had been made with their status.”
Griffin alleged voters in District 4 registered to live in houses that were vacant. He also said one elderly lady at the National Guard Armory on Ritchie Avenue was instructed one way to vote at 6:57 p.m. Aug. 6, but was so confused and did not vote at all. The polls closed at 7 p.m.
“You have a community that knows the history of these elections and that fraud has taken place, but one of the problems you have with that is they know it, they have seen it, but they don’t know how to pursue it,” Griffin said. “Then it’s null and void.”
Griffin said his goal is for the truth to come out whether or not that means there will be a new election between him and Newson. He said he would have asked for everything to be reviewed, even if he won the election.
“It’s not about the vote, whichever one had more,” Griffin said. “This is something that has been a complaint that’s been unaddressed for years and it’s all for the right of the overall voters to understand this is potentially what’s been happening.”
Griffin said approximately 34 percent of Coahoma County residents vote. He would like to see an increase in voter understanding and turnout.
Newson said he does not have any control over the circuit clerk’s office, Democratic Party of election commission, but he personally followed the law.
“I have no problem with my election versus Darron Griffin,” Newson said. “There was no fraud on my camp. If he feels there was some voter fraud, then he needs to take it up with the powers that be.
“I made sure my camp abided by all election rules and regulations,” Newson added. “Since my people were abiding by my rules and regulations, I didn’t have any complaints from his group or my group. We ran a clean election.”
Griffin said anyone who saw issues on Election Day may contact him at 662-592-1613 or firstname.lastname@example.org or the Mississippi Secretary of State’s office in Jackson at 601-359-1350.
Multiple attempts were made to reach Harris and a message was left for her, but she did not respond by press-time Wednesday.
Williams declined to comment.
Circuit Clerk Jackson said there were 18 polling places during the election. The Democratic Party entered into a contract with Coahoma County Election Commissioners to run the polling places.
She said all poll workers are trained, but there still could be issues.
“We cannot be there to police everything they do,” she said.
Jackson did say candidates who lost would not be able to switch parties or run as an independent for the General Election in November.
“Once you qualify, you have to qualify with the party you ran for,” Jackson said.
“If you qualify to run as a Democrat, you run as a Democrat all the way.”
The challenges do not affect the apparent winners in other primary races.