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Kemper race could end in lawsuit

By Staff
MAKING A CASE Attorney Bill Ready Jr., left, his client, Johnny Harpole, and Don Nault, a Harpole ally, discuss their case Monday during a break in a hearing to contest the Aug. 26 runoff election for Kemper County sheriff. The hearing was held before a panel representing the Kemper County Democratic Executive Committee. Photo by Steve Gillespie/The Meridian Star
By Steve Gillespie / staff writer
Sept. 23, 2003
DEKALB The Kemper County Democratic Executive Committee could decide Thursday the fate of sheriff's candidate Johnny Harpole's petition contesting Samuel Tisdale's win in the August party runoff.
Harpole's attorney, Bill Ready Jr., asked committee members Monday to consider throwing out several precinct boxes with discrepancies and absentee ballots that were not properly cast.
Or, he said, they could opt for a new election based on his findings.
Harpole filed a petition this month contesting the runoff in which Tisdale won by 40 votes. If the runoff stands, Tisdale will meet independents Rusty Calvert, Ronnie Rankin and Glen Williams in the Nov. 4 general election.
Among other things, Harpole's petition charges that convicted felons voted in the runoff, sheriff's deputies took inmates to the polls and names of deceased people appeared on voting sign-in sheets.
He also charges that people voted in precincts in which they didn't live, 50 absentee ballots are missing and unaccounted for and some absentee ballots that were counted were not notarized or were incomplete.
On Monday, Ready objected to the way the hearing was held as explained by Earl Thomas, chairman of the Kemper County Democratic Committee. About 65 spectators attended the hearing.
Thomas said the committee selected a six-member panel, which sat in the jury box of the courtroom, to hear the case.
Ready said state law requires the hearing to be held before all committee members who want to participate. He charged that the panel was "hand-picked" by Thomas.
Ready also objected that the rules of the hearing were not provided in advance. Thomas said that each side would have two hours to present its findings another point to which Ready objected.
Ready also asked that Thomas recuse himself from presiding over the hearing, saying he would also act as a witness and that he had earlier expressed "obvious animosity" over the procedure.
Thomas originally said that allegations of convicted felons having voted and sheriff's deputies transporting inmates to vote would be inadmissible because the executive committee has no jurisdiction.
But the hearing panel reversed the ruling, allowing Ready to provide names as examples of the charges.
Ready also provided the names of deceased people whose names appeared on voter sign-in books, as well as people who had moved away who apparently voted in precincts they no longer live in.
Ready further objected to not having enough time to prepare for the hearing, which he said was arbitrarily set by Thomas without any effort to see if it was convenient for himself or his client.
Thomas said the panel would have a closed meeting following the hearing and reconvene Thursday.
Ready said his understanding is that the hearing panel that heard the case will present it to as many members of the committee who want to participate then the committee will vote on what action, if any, should be taken.