By Kevin Edwards
BC Staff Writer
Bolivar County Supervisor James McBride of District 4 has been declared the winner of the Aug. 27 primary election, which was against Joseph White III.
The hearing was held in the Cleveland Courthouse on Dec. 18-20 before Judge Weill.
“Two very nice and very qualified gentleman fought vigorously to win this election in an honorable way,” Weill wrote in his summary. “Either would serve the citizens well as a supervisor. There was no convincing proof of fraud or intentional malfeasance offered in this election contest in Bolivar County and that is a tribute to the residents and their elected and appointed officials.
“Unfortunately, only one candidate can prevail, and that candidate is required to be the clear choice of the voters chosen in a fair and transparent election.”
The decision comes after several months of review following White’s petition for a new election.
The Aug. 27 primary was a close one as the electronic vote tally saw McBride receive 649 votes to White’s 666.
After the count of affidavit, absentee and curbside ballots it was determined that McBride had received 709 total votes and White received 702 total votes.
White’s petition alleged there was irregularities from ballots accepted that should have been rejected and vice versa to too many ballots being counted.
There were also allegations of sloppy record keeping and materials not being taken care of and stored properly.
White alleged several violations of election laws relating to the canvassing of votes including allowing those other than the Bolivar County Mississippi Democratic Executive Committee or Bolivar County Election Commissioners to canvass votes, misplacing of voting tapes, not properly marking and counting absentee and affidavit ballots and not giving proper notice of vote canvassing.
These alleged irregularities totaled White’s petition that the will of the District 4 voters could not be determined and that a new election should be held.
The court found that 55 absentee ballots — three being rejected — were collected by the circuit clerk and that was confirmed through testimony and a hand-count during the proceedings.
It was White’s allegation that only 47 votes were received, the result of either “a serious mistake which generated five additional invalid votes or was something more nefarious” and that the resolution board, who count and validate the votes, made mistakes through poor training and failed to follow protocol.
The court determined, “that the resolution board process, while far from perfect, was transparent and the clerk and other officials, including the resolution board members, offered a reasonable explanation for the disparity.”
Affidavit and absentee ballots were properly marked and sorted, and the scannable versions of the ballots used for the purposes of electronic tallying were clearly distinct from the paper versions.
The court did not find an issue with the misplaced tapes in the Renova precinct box. The tapes are printed out before the election begins to show the machine is clear and then afterward to have a raw total of the vote; the tapes are signed by each poll worker and then wrapped around the machine’s memory cards before being placed in the box. The court found this was done properly.
Two absentee ballots for White were rejected when they should have been counted. The court found that, as contended by White, these two ballots were valid as their signatures were “across the flap” of the envelope as required. This increased the vote count to 709 for McBride to 704 for White.
The court found that candidates were given proper notice of public canvassing and each candidate could have a representative at the count.
White also contended a McBride campaign worker at the East Central Cleveland voting precinct was within the prohibited zone requiring distance between the polling site and campaign activities. The court determined this to be “trivial and of no consequence to the outcome of the election.”
The court found White’s allegation of other than members of the Democratic Executive Committee and Election Commissioners canvassing and counting votes was without merit as shown by video evidence. No evidence was provided that a member of the Democratic Executive Committee supported McBride’s campaign.
The court determined the ballot boxes were properly and securely maintained by Circuit Clerk Marilyn Kelly.
The sign-in sheet for the East Cleveland precinct was not properly placed where it should have been, but the court determined this to be a technical violation at worst.
The court found no evidence of fraud or intentional wrongdoing.
The court determined that White’s petition failed to meet either of these conditions and that McBride the clear winner in a very close election.
“The adjustment to the final vote totals after this detailed analytical process was not significant enough to alter the ultimate outcome of this election,” wrote Weill.
Ja’Nekia Barton, attorney for McBride, said her camp is pleased with the result.
“This actually was a difficult matter for me to litigate because I really admire both candidates in this election contest,” Barton said. “However, when you go and you look at the evidence, the evidence was clear in this election contest, and the evidence would suggest not enough to warrant a special election.”