Judge delays trial in contested sheriff's runoff
By By Steve Gillespie / staff writer
Oct. 22, 2003
DEKALB A trial date set for next week in Johnny Harpole's contest of the August Democratic Party runoff for Kemper County sheriff is expected to be rescheduled for after the Nov. 4 election date.
Circuit Court Judge Albert Smith III of Bolivar County, who will hear the case at the Kemper County Courthouse in DeKalb, originally set the trial for six days before the general election.
But Smith delayed the trial Tuesday after conferring with attorneys involved in the case.
Harpole's attorney, Bill Ready Jr., said the judge changed the date after reviewing the facts to be presented. Ready said each of the county's ballot boxes had to be examined.
Plus, Ready said, the judge had two other contested election hearings scheduled next week.
Harpole filed suit earlier this month, asking the Circuit Court to stop the sheriff's election until the court can have a "full and complete investigation" into his charges of voter irregularities and illegal acts.
Harpole lost to incumbent Sheriff Samuel Tisdale in the Aug. 26 runoff by a margin of 40 votes. The Kemper County Democratic Executive Committee later threw out absentee ballots and said Harpole lost by 159 votes.
Ready said today that Smith could delay the general election for sheriff. Or, Ready said, the judge could let it proceed and order a special election after the hearing if he rules that the current election should not stand.
Although a new trial date has not been set, Ready said it would be scheduled sometime after Nov. 4.
Harpole's lawsuit names the Kemper County Democratic Executive Committee and Tisdale as defendants. Harpole originally contested his 40-vote loss saying the runoff election was marred with problems.
Harpole charged that convicted felons unqualified to vote cast ballots; sheriff's deputies transported inmates to and from the polls to vote; and that deceased people's names appeared on voter sign-in lists.
He also said that people voted in precincts in which they did not live; ballots rejected by the voting machine were left uncounted; and absentee ballots were improperly accepted.
Although the Democratic Executive Committee dismissed most of Harper's charges, it did throw out all absentee ballots cast in the runoff election saying that laws governing absentee ballots were not followed.
The committee's action pushed Tisdale's margin-of-victory to 159 votes.
Harpole's lawsuit says he has continued to investigate the election since his hearing before the Democratic Executive Committee.
Additional findings alleged by Harpole in his lawsuit include more than 1,000 additional discrepancies with registered voters' addresses.
He also charges that ballot boxes were seen unsealed at precinct locations during voting and when they were returned to the courthouse after polls closed, and that ballot boxes were tampered with after Harpole served notice requesting a review of the ballot boxes.
Tisdale's attorney, Linda A. Hampton, said she and her client are comfortable with the Democratic Executive Committee's investigation into Harpole's allegations.
She added that Tisdale denies having taken prisoners from the county jail to the polls and that he denies having his deputies do it.