More than three quarters of absentee ballots cast in a local Mississippi election were found to be invalid – leading to the arrest of a notary involved, and forcing a judge to order a new runoff election.
Judge Jeff Weill, in a 64-page order, said that there is evidence of fraud and criminal activity in how absentee ballots were handled, how they were counted, and actions from individuals at polling places during the runoff election held in Aberdeen, Mississippi.
As a result, a new runoff election for the Ward 1 alderman seat is necessary, reported WCBI.
The judge ruled that 66 of 84 absentee ballots that were cast in the election, or around 78 percent, should have never been counted, according to WCBI. Nicholas Holliday was declared the winner of the alderman seat by 37 votes, while challenger Robert Devaull contested the results in court.
“The court is of the opinion there is probable cause that several individuals involved in the disturbances during election day at the polling precinct ‘willfully and corruptly violated’ one or more of the above criminal statutes,” according to the judge.
“The court will leave to the appropriate authorities to determine whether the actions of Maurice Howard, Henry Randle and S. Nicholas Holliday amounted to prosecutable crimes,” the court filings also said, referring to Police Chief Henry Randle and former Mayor Maurice Howard, who Weill said were involved in intimidation and harassment at the polling police on Election Day, according to evidence.
Meanwhile, Weill ordered a separate bench warrant and set bond for $500 for Dallas Jones, who notarized the absentee ballots in question, reported the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal.
She was later released on bond, reports said. According to court documents, Jones said she admitted that she violated her notary duties and allegedly said she assisted an individual or individuals that flaunted the state’s voter fraud law.
Jones testified in a hearing that she was called to the home of then Alderwoman Lady Garth to correct the woman’s father’s absentee ballot paperwork. Jones said she notarized “about 30 something ballots,” WCBI reported, adding that the judge found that 83 regular ballots were counted without being initialed by election workers.
The court filings said that another notary, Lu Stephens, made testimony that was determined not to be believable, according to the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal.
The judge noted that other irregularities were noted, including ballot box integrity and not certifying the election in a timely manner.
“When you have an absentee ballot, there’s an envelope, you vote, fold the ballot, put it in an envelope, lick the flap, sign across the flap, then notary signs your election certificate, she testified that she didn’t sign in front of anybody, didn’t see anybody sign it, she just notarized it, just stamped them,” said Lydia Quarles, an attorney for Robert Devaull, told WCBI.
An attorney for Holliday told WCBI that they “will explore all the legal remedies afforded to Mr. Holliday under the law including but not limited to a request for the Court to reconsider its findings; a judgment notwithstanding the verdict or new trial; or the appellate process.”