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Democrats plan closed meeting on contested Kemper election

By By Steve Gillespie / staff writer
Sept. 25, 2003
Earl Thomas, chairman of the Democratic Executive Committee in Kemper County, on Wednesday dismissed several allegations made in Johnny Harpole's contest of the Aug. 26 runoff election for sheriff.
The Democratic Executive Committee is scheduled to meet today at 6 p.m. to go over several voting irregularities charged by Harpole, who lost the Democratic runoff to incumbent Sheriff Samuel Tisdale by 40 votes.
Thomas said in a telephone interview that today's meeting would be closed.
He said that neither Harpole, the sheriff, deputies, their attorneys, the press, nor spectators would be allowed into the meeting, which is scheduled to be held in the courtroom on the second floor of the Kemper County courthouse in DeKalb.
Thomas said there are about 27 members of the Democratic Executive Committee. He said he doesn't know if the committee will decide anything tonight and wouldn't say if any votes among the committee would be held in public.
Harpole's attorney, Bill Ready Jr., said Wednesday he was told the meeting would be closed.
He said copies of some of his documentation used in a hearing before a panel of committee members Monday were sent to the committee this week on its request.
Dead people voting?
In the hearing it was charged that the names of some people believed to be deceased were signed on voter registration sheets. Specific examples Ready gave at the hearing included Virgil Welch Jr., whose name he said was signed at the Kellis Store precinct, and Elmer Houston, whose name he said was signed at the Moscow precinct.
Thomas said Wednesday that based on committee investigations, there were no names of deceased people on voter sign-in sheets for the election.
On Monday Ready told the hearing panel of six executive committee members, that based on his examinations of 11 out of 23 precinct boxes, he believed there to be 158 names of people either deceased or not living in the precinct in which they are registered, on the voter rolls in Kemper County.
Felons and irregularities
There were allegations of convicted felons having voted in the runoff as well, which Ready asked the committee to investigate. He provided some names to the panel.
Blanche Clay, now retired, served as Kemper County Circuit Clerk during the runoff election. She said Ready submitted eight names of voters he said were convicted felons.
Clay also said no ballots were missing or unaccounted for as Harpole's petition charges.
Harpole's petition to contest the election charges 15 specific practices occurred during the election that are unlawful and it gives examples of voting irregularities for each of the 23 precinct boxes in the county.
Thomas said he is upset over The Meridian Star's coverage of the charges made by Harpole, claiming that the news articles have been "one-sided and unfair." He made the same accusations before the hearing on Monday. In an interview at that time when he was asked to comment on Harpole's petition, Thomas said, "We'll have to wait until we get a little further along."
Calls made by The Star to Thomas after the hearing Monday were not returned until Wednesday.