A judge ruled in favor of Pike County District 1 Supervisor Tazwell Bowsky in an election contest Wednesday filed by last year’s Democratic primary opponent, Tracey Felder.
Felder filed an election contest in Pike County Circuit Court after losing to Bowsky 652 votes to 398 in the Aug. 6 Democratic primary.
Bowsky received 50.27% of the vote, just enough to avoid a runoff with Felder and win the election. Felder contends there were enough voting irregularities to force a runoff — just five votes would have made the difference.
After a day of rummaging through hundreds of ballots in five precincts, special judge Frank Vollor said there was no reason to overturn the election results.
“There’s no evidence of fraud presented to the court, and fraud would have to be presented,” he said.
“There would have to be enough illegal votes cast to change the outcome, and there’s been no evidence of illegal votes. There weren’t any. The court feels the will of the people has been determined and so the election will stand.”
Felder said she’s “just glad it’s over,” and her attorney, Gerald Mumford of Jackson, said there are no plans to appeal.
Bowsky said, “Nothing was done illegal, and no voter fraud. None of those things would have contributed to me not being certified and not winning the election.”
Bowsky was re-elected to another term that began this month.
“I’m going to go on and continue to do what I’m supposed to do in the county and help the people,” he said.
During the trial, attorneys went through five precinct boxes: New Hope Baptist Church, South McComb Baptist Church, First Baptist Church of Summit, Martin Luther King Center and North McComb Baptist Church.
Alleged irregularities included non-registered voters casting ballots, multiple affidavit ballots under the same name, people voting at the wrong precinct, lack of stated reason for voting absentee, and conflicting vote totals. Mumford also cited the breakdown of a voting machine at South McComb Baptist Church on election night.
“We maintain that the votes that were tabulated were irregular,” Mumford said.
Bowsky’s attorney, Sam Begley of Jackson, asked Judge Vollor of Vicksburg to let county election commissioners assist with the process, and commissioners Trudy Berger and Jennifer Gatlin-Barnes volunteered to go through boxes.
Court officials set up a table for the box examinations, with Berger and Barnes standing behind it to help out.
Mumford and Begley went through all five precinct boxes, with Mumford alleging irregularities and commissioners standing behind the accuracy of the count.
Examining the boxes was a painstaking process involving numbers and minutiae.
As Berger, Barnes, Mumford, Felder and Begley milled around the ballot table, court reporter Lucretia Smith expressed frustration, saying she was unable to keep up with who was saying what.
“This needs to be a little better organized,” she interrupted. “If you have something to say, if you could come to the podium — I know that is difficult, but this is important.”
In one case, Mumford said an envelope said it contained four spoiled ballots when it only had one.
Berger replied, “This says one spoiled ballot, Precinct 4.”
Mumford then pointed to a sticky note that appeared to say four spoiled ballots.
As for people voting in the wrong precinct, Berger said, “The procedure in SEMS (Statewide Election Management System) now makes it impossible to count a vote at the wrong precinct.”
Mumford zeroed in on apparently conflicting vote tallies. For instance, Barnes said 484 people apparently voted at MLK, but only 470 votes were reported to the Secretary of State.
The case was a bench trial, meaning the judge, not a jury, rendered the final verdict.
In closing arguments, Mumford said, “We believe it’s pretty clear that there were some discrepancies not only in the Martin Luther King box in Precinct No. 2.”
He said discrepancies compromised the integrity of the election.
“We can’t trust any results that came from that,” he said.
“Mr. Bowsky is a four-term incumbent, and over 50 percent we believe voted for change. There were two other people in this race between Mr. Bowsky and Ms. Felder.”
Five fewer votes for Bowsky would have caused a runoff, said Mumford, asking Vollor to declare a special election.
Begley said Mumford presented no examples of illegal votes.
“I think you have to come up with some unlawful ballots,” he said.
Begley said the Pike County election commissioners had lots of experience. “Every indication is they’ve run a good election,” he said.
“No elections are perfect, but the standard is, can this court ascertain the will of the voters at this contest hearing.”