State high court upholds Banks’ 2019, 57-vote win for District 4 Madison County Supervisor
The Mississippi Supreme Court last week upheld Democrat Karl Banks’ Nov. 5, 2019, 57-vote victory over Republican Jim Harreld to the District 4 Madison County Board of Supervisors.
Harreld, a Republican, had challenged the election results questioning ballot styles, absentee ballots and affidavit ballots, among other issues, asking the Madison County Circuit Court to decertify the election results and to order a special election or to declare Harreld the winner.
The circuit court, however, affirmed the election as certified and Harreld appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court.
On June 17, the Mississippi Supreme Court in a 6-3 decision affirmed the Madison County Circuit Court decision that upheld Banks’ election to the seat.
“Because the trial court did not commit manifest error by finding that Harreld failed to meet the requisite standard of proof necessary to overturn an election, this Court affirms the trial court’s judgment,” states the June 17 Mississippi Supreme Court majority decision written by Presiding Justice Leslie D. King.
Joining King in the majority opinion were justices Robert P. Chamberlin, David M. Ishee, James W. Kitchens, Josiah D. Coleman and Dawn H. Beam.
In his petition filed with the Madison County Circuit Court, Harreld alleged that “three split precincts gave out thirty-seven incorrect ballot styles, that thirty-three absentee ballots were illegally counted, that nine affidavit ballots were improperly counted, that three affidavit ballots were improperly rejected, that the Statewide Election Management System (SEMS) placed voters in the incorrect supervisor district, that nine ballots were not initialed by poll managers, that one resolution ballot was not counted, and that twenty-five individuals who no longer reside in District 4 voted in the District 4 election,” the Supreme Court decision states. “Harreld requested that the court decertify the election and order a special election for Supervisor District 4.”
Harreld filed subsequently amended petitions further alleging that “six resolution ballots were not counted, that more than 200 individuals voted in District 4 who were incorrectly placed in District 4 by SEMS or who no longer reside at their listed address, and that 140 voters who reside in District 4 were incorrectly placed outside of District 4 by SEMS.”
Harreld also petitioned the court to declare Harreld the winner of the election and seat him as the District 4 Supervisor.
The court appointed Lamar Pickard as a special judge to preside over the matter.
The 42-page Mississippi Supreme Court decision takes up each matter.
“Harreld contests hundreds of votes in the District 4 supervisor election that he lost by a margin of fifty-seven votes,” the majority opinion states. “He does not allege any fraud or intentional wrongdoing. The circuit court found that Harreld failed to meet his burden of proof that any of the votes were illegal.”
The lower court also found that any irregularities did not substantially impair the integrity of the election.
“The circuit court erred by failing to find seven of those absentee ballot votes, all of which were lacking critical signatures, illegal,” King’s majority opinion states. “… Further, the will of the voters remains ascertainable, and Harreld failed to prove any substantial failure to materially comply with election statutes. Because the circuit court did not manifestly err by holding that Harreld failed to meet his burden of proof of illegality on all but seven votes and did not err by finding that the will of the voters to elect Banks was ascertainable, this Court affirms the judgment of the circuit court.”
The dissenting opinion penned by Justice T. Kenneth Griffis and joined by Justices Michael K. Randolph and James D. Maxwell II, states the matter of votes is irrelevant.
“Because I am of the opinion that the trial judge erred as to the first issue, requiring that we reverse the decision of the Special Judge and order a special election for Madison County Board of Supervisors District 4, no reason exists to address the remaining issues,” Griffis wrote.