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hange, Election Commission will not investigate voter claims

A hand recount of the votes from last Tuesday’s bond issue vote produced no change in the results, Pearl River County Circuit Clerk Vickie Hariel said in a phone interview Monday.

The Pearl River County election commissioners met at the courthouse at 9 a.m. Monday to perform what Hariel called a “canvassing” of the vote, which was a count of the votes by hand.

“It’s not a ‘recount’ per se. It was a canvas assessment of the vote by hand,” Hariel said. “The totals counted by the commission were exactly the same as those provided by the scanner last Tuesday night.”

Hariel said the election commission certified the results after the canvassing.

PRC election commission chairman Bobby Robbins said the commission will not be investigating the claims submitted by Pearl River Central School District Superintendent Dennis Penton on Friday.

“We contacted the Secretary of State’s office and the Attorney General’s office as well as speaking to our attorney to come to this decision. They all told us we have no subpoena power to launch an investigation into this matter. The best thing for us to do was to certify the election, so Penton and the school board could decide what their next move is going to be,” Robbins said in a phone interview Monday.

“There is no law giving the election commission the power to investigate the claims made (by Penton). He will have to file an official complaint so that a judge can be appointed to look into the matter,” Hariel said.

Hariel said in her 30 years of working for the county, she has never seen an election thrown out.

“That would be up to the judge, but I’ve never seen it in this county, and only very rarely in other counties,” Hariel said.

Penton had submitted a letter of complaint to the election commission regarding several claims he said he had received of poll workers in two separate precincts who pressured voters to vote against the bond issue while at the polls. The precincts in question were Carriere Beat 5, and Millcreek Beat 2.

Penton also expressed concern about voting signs not being placed at open precincts, and the last of privacy for voters at the precincts.

The pollworkers from the Millcreek precinct responded Monday with a notarized affidavit that they submitted to the Circuit Clerk’s office.

According to the affidavit, the three poll workers, Meda Taylor, Rebecca Taylor, and Voncile Rester, say no one at the pols tried to influence a voter “in any way, shape or form.”

In a phone interview Tuesday morning, Rester daid she has worked the polls four or five times previously, and has never had any complaints.

“To my knowledge, nothing was said that could have been interpreted as pressure to vote against the bond issue. … We did have vote signs. We had a separate table that people could vote on. I handed everyone their papers and told them to vote over on the other table,” Rester said.

The other two workers were unavailable for comment.

In a phone interview Monday afternoon, Penton said he is uncertain what steps the school board will now decide to take.

“I was told to go any further we would have to go to court. I’m not saying that’s an option. I’m not saying that’s not an option either. It’s strictly up to the board at this point,” Penton said.