Panel: Dem who won by 14 votes should remain as state rep
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi lawmakers should not overturn an election in which a Democrat defeated a Republican incumbent by 14 votes to capture a state House seat, a bipartisan committee said Wednesday.
After hearing testimony from local election officials, the committee voted unanimously to recommend that the full House uphold Hester Jackson McCray’s win over Ashley Henley in the Nov. 5 general election.
The Republican-led House could consider the recommendation sometime next week. Although such election challenges are rare, it is unusual for a Mississippi legislative body to reject a committee’s recommendation.
McCray was inaugurated along with all other legislators on Jan. 7. She is the first African American woman to hold a state legislative seat from DeSoto County.
“I’m satisfied with their decision,” McCray said after the committee voted.
She said she is looking forward to “getting to work for the people ... who sent me down here.”
McCray and Henley ran in House District 40, which encompasses a portion of DeSoto County in the northwestern corner of the state. DeSoto has been Mississippi’s fastest-growing county for years, and it’s not far from Memphis, Tennessee.
Henley served in the District 40 seat for one term, having defeated McCray in the 2015 election. Henley filed papers in early December to challenge the results of the 2019 election, saying she found what she believed to be irregularities in the way some votes were cast.
Henley’s petition said several people voted using addresses where they no longer live; one person who owns multiple properties voted at a property that’s not where the person claims to live; another person voted in District 40 despite living in a different district; and one person voted at the wrong precinct.
Henley’s petition said election officials failed to get some voters’ signatures. It said two ballots marked in favor of Henley were found in an equipment bag, apparently discarded.
DeSoto County Elections Commission chairman Danny Klein and the county’s circuit clerk, Dale Thompson, testified to the committee hearing the election challenge Wednesday.
Klein said signatures are not required on the documents mentioned in the petition. He also said election officials checked to ensure that the number of ballots cast matched other documents from election day.
“I’d say the will of the voters was carried out,” Klein said.
Henley is not asking the House to declare her the winner. Rather, her petition asks representatives to declare the District 40 seat vacant and order a new election.
“By viewing the evidence, I couldn’t say I won (and) I couldn’t say she won,” Henley said.
Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus.