ABERDEEN, MISS. (WCBI) – A judge is ordering a new runoff election for the Ward 1 alderman seat in Aberdeen.
In the sixty-four-page order, Judge Jeff Weill not only calls for a new election but also finds evidence of fraud and criminal activity, in how absentee ballots were handled, how votes were counted, and the actions by some at the polling place.
In his ruling, the judge said that sixty-six of eighty-four absentee ballots cast in the June runoff were not valid and should never have been counted. Nicholas Holliday was declared the winner by a 37 vote margin. Robert Devaull challenged the results in court.
Judge Weill found many irregularities with absentee ballots. He issued a bench warrant for notary Dallas Jones, who notarized absentee ballots. During a hearing, Jones admitted violating notary duties.
“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, attorney for Robert Devaull.
In fact, Jones testified that she was called to the home of then Alderwoman Lady Garth in June to correct her father’s absentee ballot paperwork. While there, Jones testified she notarized “about 30 something ballots.”
The judge also found that 83 regular ballots were counted without being initialed by election workers.
Judge Weill also said there was clear evidence of voter intimidation and harassment at the polling place on election day. State law says candidates and supporters must stay at least 150 feet away from the polling place. In his ruling, the judge said Holliday, along with Police Chief Henry Randle, and former Mayor Maurice Howard acted as if they were above the law, repeatedly violating criminal statutes.
Devaull is hopeful the judge’s order for a new election will mean a fair contest for the Ward 1 seat.
“It was always a lot of distraction in Ward 1, that’s what I said earlier, I would like to see, going forward, that be cleaned up, people being able to come and go, vote for who they want to,” Devaull said.
Aldermen meet Tuesday. They are expected to set a new election for Ward 1 during that meeting.
Notary Dallas Jones has been released on bond.