Thursday, January 14, 2016
JACKSON, Miss. (AP)—Attorneys are arguing about whether the Mississippi Senate should overturn results of one Senate race in the southwestern part of the state.
A special committee started hearing arguments Wednesday in the dispute over District 37 in Adams, Amite, Franklin and Pike counties.
Certified results show Democratic former Sen. Bob Dearing defeated one-term Republican Sen. Melanie Sojourner by 64 votes in the Nov. 3 general election. Both candidates are from Natchez.
Sojourner questions the way the election was conducted in the Bude precinct in Franklin County. Dearing says the election was handled fairly, and his victory should be upheld.
Dearing served 32 years in the Senate before Sojourner unseated him in 2011. If senators agree Dearing won fairly in 2015, he would return as one of the longest-serving members in the 52-person chamber.
Senate President Pro Tempore Terry Burton, R-Newton, chairs the five-member committee that is considering Sojourner's challenge and will make a recommendation to the full Senate about whether to uphold or overturn the election results.
"We're not members of parties at this point," Burton said Wednesday. "We're not friends. We're not colleagues. We're fact-finders."
Sojourner's attorney, James P. Tinsley of Saltillo, said during his opening arguments Wednesday that he will raise questions about the handling of absentee ballots in Adams County and the conduct of poll workers in Bude. Tinsley said election officials are obligated to follow election laws.
"Here are the rules," Tinsley said, holding a state law book. "You'd better follow them. If you don't, there are going to be consequences."
Sojourner's petition to the Senate includes a sworn statement by Anita Leonard, a Republican poll watcher in Bude, who wrote that she saw three poll workers provide assistance to voters who didn't need it because they were not blind or illiterate. Leonard also said she saw two poll workers fail to check voters' photo identification. Sojourner's petition also has a similar statement by Carl E. Cupit, a Republican precinct bailiff in Bude.
Dearing's attorney, Brad Pigott of Jackson, said the poll workers in Bude were never accused of any wrongdoing until Leonard had them arrested on accusations of misconduct. Pigott said Leonard and Cupit have not read the state election laws they accuse other people of violating.
"They have fantastic imaginations as to what amounts to election crime in this state," Pigott said of Leonard and Cupit.