BY BRIAN JONES
WEST POINT – District 5 Supervisor Floyd McKee has formally challenged the results of the Aug. 25 runoff.
McKee, a two-term incumbent, got the most votes in the primary, but was defeated by challenger Joe Chandler by eight votes – 760 to 752 – in the runoff. McKee is alleging that there were irregularities in the election, including people who were allowed to vote despite not living in District 5 and improper behavior in polling places. Many of McKee’s witnesses worked at the Pine Bluff box, which is the only box that Chandler carried. McKee also questioned Chandler’s residency.
The Democratic Executive Committee held a hearing Sept. 21 at the Clay County Courthouse to hear McKee’s case. Chairwoman Pat Cannon said the committee will meet again Sept. 23, and will possibly announce a decision. [Look for that story in next week’s edition. – Ed.]
McKee was represented by Columbus attorneys Will Cooper and Elizabeth Jones. Chandler was represented by Walter Zinn.
The meeting was heavily attended by members of the public.
Under the Democratic Executive Committee’s rules, Cooper was given the opportunity to present McKee’s case. He called six witnesses, after which Zinn made a brief statement. The committee announced that they would investigate and announce a decision Wednesday morning.
“This is our first chance to present evidence,” Cooper said. “Under the statute, a vote can be challenged under several grounds. These are in the poll worker guide, which every worker in Clay County would have been given on the day of the election. The bottom line is that we believe there are some irregularities that occurred, number one being that people who are not living in the precinct were allowed to vote. What we intend to do today is offer some evidence there, and we hope the committee will decide to go into those boxes and either exclude the votes or, if you find there were enough irregularities, that you would conduct a special election and redo the runoff.”
Cooper’s first witness was Barbara Wooten, who was a poll watcher for McKee on election day. Wooten said she saw people coming in and photographing the sign-in sheets at Pine Bluff.
“I was asked by (McKee) to be a poll watcher, and I worked from 4 p.m. until 7 p.m.,” Wooten said. “There was one thing that was happening there that I felt was not right. They were coming in and they were taking pictures of the signatures of people that had already voted. We (poll watchers) were told that we couldn’t interfere with anything, and there was a sign there that said no cell phones. I just didn’t think it was right.”
“And you thought that those pictures were being utilized for something?” Cooper asked.
“Yes,” Wooten said. “I thought they were being sent back to someone. Why would you want to take pictures of people who had already voted unless you had a purpose for it.”
She also said someone voted whose name was not on the voter list.
“We had one man come in and his name was not on the list,” she said. “He said he had lived there for a long time. They did let him vote, he voted on a paper ballot. His name was not on the voter roll, I sat there and watched them look for him.”
Cooper’s second witness was Betty McNeel. McNeel said she was a poll watcher for McKee at both the primary and runoff elections at Pine Bluff.
“I worked 7 a.m. until 11 a.m. on the day of the runoff,” she said. “When I was there I was going up and checking the book, and someone came in to check the books and she said, ‘I’m wearing two hats today. I’m a poll watcher, and I’m handing out cards for (Chandler.)’ I was looking at the (sign-in book) and writing the names down and one of the ladies there asked me why I didn’t just do what the others did and take a picture of the book. I said that I didn’t think that was legal. There was a sign there, you couldn’t miss it, that said no cell phones.”
Cooper called Shirley Cochran as his third witness. Cochran was a poll watcher for McKee in Pheba. She said she was there all day, from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m., on the day of the runoff. She claimed two voters were allowed to vote in spite of the fact that they did not live in District 5.
“We had one person come in to vote that lives in District 3,” Cochran said. “She’s voted there before. I challenged her vote and told them that she lived in District 3. The books that they give us when we went to school said if you don’t live in that district you must not vote there. You should go to the district you moved to and vote an affidavit ballot. I challenged her vote, but they went ahead and let her vote on a machine.”
“Who did you challenge it to?” Cooper asked.
“The manager over the poll,” Cochran said. “They went ahead and let her vote.”
“You referred to some training,” Cooper said. “What training is that?”
Cochran said she had been a poll worker before.
“It says in the book that if you moved in the same county you must vote in the district where you moved and vote an affidavit ballot,” Cochran said.
“But they allowed her to vote there,” Cooper said.
“She’s done it three times,” Cochran said.
“And not by affidavit,” Cooper said.
“Right,” Cochran said.
“Did you witness another one?” Cooper said.
“Yes,” Cochran said. “Another woman came in there with a driver’s license from Webster County. I challenged her vote. The poll manager said she called (Cannon) and Cannon told her to let her vote. I said that’s not right.”
Cooper called Kenneth McKee, Floyd McKee’s brother, next. Kenneth McKee said he saw a voting machine taken outside and left unattended at Pine Bluff.
“I was out there, I guess you’d call it watching at Pine Bluff,” Kenneth McKee said. “A lady brought the (voting machine) outside for a lady to vote in a car. She brought it out there and give it to her and then went back inside.”
“So the poll worker brought the portable voting machine outside, left it with the individual who was to vote,” Cooper said.
“Yes,” Kenneth McKee said.
“How do you know that’s something that’s not supposed to happen?” Cooper asked.
“Well, I’ve been told that by several folks,” Kenneth McKee said, drawing some laughter from the crowd.
“Did you see how it got back inside?” Cooper asked.
“Well, the lady just carried it back inside,” Kenneth McKee said. [I assume he means the person in the car carried it back inside. – Ed.]
Jeannie Staten was called as the next witness.
“Mr. McKee asked me to assist him in going and challenging the Pine Bluff box because of my experience,” she said. “I have worked with elections practically all my life.”
She said the Pine Bluff box was examined after the election, and she checked voter registration rolls compared with who actually voted.
“According to the official voting list for Pine Bluff, there were eight people who were not on the voter’s list that we had presented to us,” she said. “We were given a query of all of the voters that were officially registered to vote from District 5. That’s everything, all of them. When the election took place, we asked for an official voting list of who did vote. We compared the two lists, specifically Pine Bluff, and there are eight different discrepancies. They were not on the voter’s query and they did actually vote.”
“If you looked at the official voter roll for District 5, those eight individuals are not actually registered,” Cooper said.
“That’s right,” Staten said.
“If you’re not registered to vote, I assume you can vote affidavit,” Cooper said. “Were those eight individuals not affidavit ballots?”
“No, sir,” Staten said.
“Not only were they allowed to vote, not being on the register, but there was not a subsequent affidavit filing,” Cooper said.
“That is correct,” Staten said. “When we challenged the box, we asked for affidavit votes and there were only two. We had been informed prior to going through the box that there was four.”
Staten also said that at least one voter who was supposed to vote affidavit was not included in the affidavit ballots, but according to the voter list he did, in fact, vote.
She raised questions about two absentee ballots as well.
“There were two people who voted absentee by signature of an X,” she said. “There were no witnesses next to the signature. It was notarized, but we have not been able to verify the notary’s bond.”
“They voted with an X, unable to sign their name, and the law requires witnesses but the witnesses are not on the absentee ballot,” Cooper said.
“That’s correct,” Staten said.
Finally, Floyd McKee himself took the stand.
“How many votes did you lost (the runoff) by?” Cooper asked.
“Eight,” McKee said.
“How many boxes are in the precinct?” Cooper asked.
“Four,” McKee said.
“How many boxes did Mr. Chandler lead you in?” Cooper asked.
“One,” McKee said. “That was Pine Bluff. I think Mr. Chandler had 202 and I maybe had 82.”
McKee said he had investigated the results since the runoff.
“I had several people call me complaining about things that went on there,” McKee said. “I heard about pictures being taken in there. People weren’t staying in the building. I heard about the bailiff leaving the building and going next door to a house there and eating hot dogs with them and not staying at the precinct.”
McKee said he investigated the Pine Bluff box several days after the runoff, with Staten’s help.
“To save some time, did you learn the same thing that Ms. Staten learned about the eight people?” Cooper asked.
“One thing that she left out is Mr. Jerry Ivy,” McKee said. “He lives in Webster County. He’s been living out of the county for a number of years. He is also registered to vote in Webster County, and in the City of Mathiston. I went down and I got copies of where he was registered there. He voted at Pine Bluff.”
“So that’s somebody you learned about besides the eight that Ms. Staten talked about,” Cooper said.
“The voter query report shows where he voted in Pine Bluff on that date,” McKee said. “Last time he voted in Webster County was 2012. He may have voted in the city election, but they got a box up there that’s locked for some reason and we don’t know if he voted or not.”
“But the document does show that he doesn’t live in District 5,” Cooper said.
“He doesn’t live in District 5,” McKee said. “The girls working in the polls know that he used to be her next door neighbor 15 years ago, and she knows that he doesn’t live there. She should have had him disqualified, and she didn’t.”
McKee said a man from Caledonia voted.
“We had Melvin Carr, from Caledonia, Miss.,” McKee said. [I think that’s what he said, anyway. Nobody who testified was speaking into a microphone, and it was hard to hear at times. – Ed.] “He is registered to vote in Pheba. The address he listed in Pheba, there’s not even a house at that address. It’s a mailbox but no house. I talked to him when he came into the courthouse to vote that Saturday morning, I told him I had a daughter who lived in Caledonia and asked if he still lived there and he said yes, he did.”
McKee alleged a Jean Duncan Malone should not have voted in the runoff.
“She is at South West Point (precinct),” he said. “She voted Republican the first time, and they allowed her to come back and vote Democrat the second time. She shouldn’t have voted.” [Voters who voted in one party primary are not supposed to come back and vote in the other party’s runoff. – Ed.]
“We had a Gary Duncan who votes in South West Point, but he lives in District 4 in North West Point,” McKee said. “He came in and voted, too. I was standing there when he came in and voted absentee.”
McKee also claimed he saw people voting who were driving vehicles with Chickasaw County tags.
“They got Chickasaw County tags on their vehicles so they don’t have to pay their garbage bills here,” McKee said, drawing chuckles from the crowd. “But they want to vote in District 5.”
McKee also claimed someone was campaigning for Chandler in the South West Point poll.
“There was a woman going around in there, and she wouldn’t mention (Chandler’s) name but she was telling everyone to vote black,” McKee said. McKee is white; Chandler is black.
McKee also alleged that Chandler lived in District 4.
“When he qualified to run as District 5 supervisor he was staying with a lady on Watson Avenue over here in District 4,” McKee said. “Then he bought a house at 816 Ridge Street. That’s in District 4. He had Homestead out (in District 5) on his dad’s old place. He lived in that home several years back, but based on my own investigations he does not live there now.”
McKee provided photographs of the house that he claimed showed it was not being lived in.
“When they heard I was investigating they went out there and cut a little grass and cleaned it up some,” he said.
McKee admitted he did not challenge Chandler’s residency within the required amount of time when Chandler qualified.
Cannon said the committee would investigate McKee’s charges, and reconvene Wednesday.
“We’re not going to prolong this,” she said. “But we need to be fair and do our due diligence.”0