By Ernest Herndon
The chairman of the Pike County Republican Party plans to pursue his complaint that a tax assessor candidate does not live in the county, even though the election commission rejected his claim and the candidate lost in the Aug. 6 Democratic primary.
Republican Party Chairman Bobby McDaniel says Renada Jenkins Taylor Cain, who ran for Pike County tax assessor, lives in Lincoln County. McDaniel also maintains that Cain’s mother, election commissioner Audrey Jenkins, was complicit for not reporting it.
Cain lost to Angela Simmons, who received 2,752 votes (60%) to Cain’s 1,839. Simmons advances to the November general election against Republican incumbent Laurie Allen.
McDaniel filed an official protest Aug. 6 when Cain showed up to vote at the Progress Fire Station precinct. Pollworkers consulted with an election commissioner, then allowed Cain to cast a paper ballot marked “challenged.” The commission ruled Monday that Cain’s ballot was legitimate.
“After obtaining written statements from the pollworkers at Precinct 21, examining the contents of the boxes and consulting with Kim Turner, Assistant Secretary of State for Elections, we have accepted the ballot of Renada Taylor-Cain and concluded that the pollworkers rejected Bobby McDaniel’s challenge at the time it was made,” commission chair Trudy Berger said in a texted statement. “Their statements made it clear that he created so much disruption in the precinct that they issued a paper ballot (actually an affidavit ballot) in an effort to restore order and get him to leave.”
McDaniel said he challenged the vote according to proper protocol. He said all voting must stop while pollworkers consider the evidence. They can then either rule on their own or refer the matter to the election commission.
Berger said McDaniel didn’t have legal standing to challenge Cain’s vote. She cited the state poll managers guide that says a political party’s official poll watcher cannot challenge a voter in a party primary.
McDaniel said he had a right to do what he did.
“As chairman, when something like voter fraud — living in Lincoln County and voting in Pike County — is brought to my attention, it is my duty to act on the problem,” he said. “The Republican voters look to their chairman to address voter fraud. Any voter, poll watcher, poll worker may challenge a vote if they feel it is fraud.”
Cain also said McDaniel was in no legal position to challenge her candidacy or her right to vote in Pike County.
“I satisfied all the residency requirements by the Democratic Party. Therefore, they certified my candidacy,” Cain said.
“This whole controversy is a thinly veiled attempt to insert himself into the governance of the Democratic Executive Committee.”
She called McDaniel’s challenge “another pathetic attempt to suppress voter participation.”
Cain’s mother, commissioner Audrey Jenkins, responded to McDaniel’s claims of her own involvement in wrongdoing.
“I have served Pike County for the past 15 years without even the hint of scandal or anyone questioning my integrity or ethics, and my mother served for 12 years before me,” Jenkins said in a texted statement.
“I did not know that my daughter was establishing residency in Pike County or filing for office prior to her turning in qualifying papers. That fact alone says quite a lot about how much my family respects the position and public trust placed in me as an elected official.
“The fact that Mr. McDaniel has chosen to pursue these baseless claims and behave in such a reckless, disrespectful and unlawful manner in a voting precinct says more about the sad state of partisan politics in this state and county than it does about the conduct of myself or my daughter.”
Berger called McDaniel’s allegation against Jenkins “a ridiculous charge.”
“I’ve worked alongside Audrey Jenkins for the 13 years I’ve been a commissioner,” Berger said. “I’ve never seen her do one thing that would cause me to question her integrity.”
McDaniel said he doesn’t plan to stop with the commission’s decision.
“The fraudulent voter information will be turned over to local law enforcement and taken to the District Attorney, as the law states,” he said.
McDaniel said he has evidence that Cain misrepresented her address.
On her candidate qualifying statement, Cain listed her address as 1148 Pike 93 Central, McComb. McDaniel produced photos of the residence taken over a period of weeks that he says indicate it’s unoccupied. Two vehicles parked there have expired tags and haven’t been moved in four months, he said.
“It’s a vacant house. I’ve got all the pictures every day for a month,” he said.
He also has photos that he said show Cain’s black Toyota regularly parked behind 1695 New Sight Road NE, Brookhaven, in Lincoln County.
He cited an Attorney General’s opinion that says, “A person’s domicile in election matters has been defined as the place where he had his true, fixed, permanent home and principal establishment.”
McDaniel said he has other evidence as well. “This will go to the Secretary of State’s office,” he said.
McDaniel said listing a false residence constitutes voter fraud. According to the Mississippi voter application form, false registration is a felony with a penalty of up to five years and $5,000.
McDaniel said it was up to the Democratic Executive Committee to catch any inaccuracies in Cain’s address before accepting her as a candidate. Committee chairperson Lexie Elmore said she left that up to the circuit clerk’s office.
“We did that based on what was told to us at the circuit clerk’s office,” Elmore said.
Circuit Clerk Roger Graves said investigating residency is not the responsibility of his office.
“When someone registers to vote, that is an affidavit, so to speak, that everything on there is true, and we register that person,” he said.
If the voter card is not returned when mailed, the assumption is that the address is valid, Graves said.
Cain maintained the Pike County address is correct.
“My residency is 1148 Pike 93 Central,” she said. “That is my residence. I work out of town in Brookhaven.”
As for the Lincoln County address, “That’s not where I live,” she said. “I have residency at 1148 Pike 93 Central.”