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Showdown in sheriff's race

By Staff
PREPARING HIS REMARKS Marvin Wiggins, left, a member of the Kemper County Democratic Executive Committee, highlights portions of his report on the party primary for sheriff. Wiggins presented the report to fellow committee members Thursday at the Kemper County Courthouse in DeKalb as Earl Thomas, committee chairman, and Roma Allen, Kemper County circuit clerk, look on. Photo by Paula Merritt/The Meridian Star
By Steve Gillespie / staff writer
Sept. 26, 2003
DEKALB Members of the Kemper County Democratic Executive Committee will decide today if Sheriff Samuel Tisdale will remain the party nominee after they disqualify 72 absentee ballots cast in last month's runoff.
Chairman Earl Thomas said the 22 committee members who met in a closed meeting Thursday night voted unanimously to disqualify the absentee ballots.
Thomas didn't know how that move will affect the outcome of the race for the Democratic nominee in the Kemper County sheriff's election. Tisdale originally won the runoff, defeating Johnny Harpole by 40 votes.
Harpole, who contested the election, said he is disappointed by the committee's decision. Harpole and his attorney presented their case before members of the committee at a hearing on Monday.
If Tisdale's runoff victory stands, he will face independent candidates Rusty Calvert, Ronnie Rankin and Glen Williams in the Nov. 4 general election.
Harpole's petition
Harpole originally filed a petition on Sept. 12 contesting the runoff, after spending two days with his attorney, Bill Ready Jr., and others reviewing precinct-by-precinct results.
Harpole's petition charged 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.
It also said that people voted in precincts in which they didn't live, some ballots were missing and unaccounted for and some absentee ballots that were counted were not notarized or were incomplete.
Marvin Wiggins, one of six Democratic Executive Committee members who heard Harpole's case on Monday, said he presented the panel's report to committee members Thursday night.
Wiggins said strict adherence to the absentee ballot law is mandatory. "Votes not in compliance with mandatory provisions of election statutes are illegal; votes illegally cast are improperly counted," he said.
Absentee ballots
Wiggins reported that the committee found that absentee ballot laws were not followed in some instances, particularly with applications for the ballots that were not notarized as required.
He also said that absentee ballot envelopes were not properly signed and completed and that absentee ballots did not correspond to envelopes and applications.
Therefore, he said, a large number of unlawful absentee ballots are intermingled with lawful ballots and there is no way to tell them apart.
Other charges
Wiggins reported the committee couldn't find deceased people on voter sign-in sheets, unqualified convicted felons who voted in the election or people who voted in precincts in which they did not live.
Linda A. Hampton, Tisdale's attorney who was at the Kemper County Courthouse for the Democratic Executive Committee meeting, said she believes the committee was diligent in its investigation.
Ready did not attend the Thursday night meeting.
But he said he and Harpole plan to be at the Kemper County Courthouse today when the Democratic Executive Committee counts absentee ballots, subtracts them from the vote totals and declares a winner.
Ready said the committee's actions Thursday were not enough.