They might as well have called it Pete Perry day Thursday at the Forrest County Courthouse.
Election consultant Pete Perry entered the witness stand shortly after 10 a.m. and never left it — making it a good day for the Dave Ware legal team, as its expert witness testified to numerous instances of irregularities during the June 4 mayoral election in Hattiesburg.
Questioned by Ware attorney Malcolm Jones through three hours of afternoon testimony, Perry testified to problems that include:
– An “extremely small” number (11) of the 580 absentee ballots rejected by poll managers, according to Perry. Seven precincts, in fact, carried by incumbent Mayor Johnny DuPree featured not a single rejected absentee ballot.
“It appears that the poll managers didn’t bother to canvass them, didn’t go through their checklists (or) didn’t make a decision one way or another,” said Perry, who inspected ballot materials for the Ware campaign in the days following the election.
By contrast, Perry testified that 375 of the 580 ballots contained at least one mandatory violation that rendered them illegal. DuPree won the overall election by 37 votes.
Other problems, noted by Perry, included:
– More absentee envelopes than actual absentee ballots among the ballot materials that Perry inspected — one of many numerical discrepancies Perry found in the process of matching ballots with envelopes, voting logs and so forth. The voting records of the Rowan Precinct, Perry testified, showed 29 more ballots cast than voters signed in to the precinct register.
– Given particular scrutiny were 36 absentee ballots, requested by the mayor’s wife, Johniece DuPree, and filled out by Forrest County Jail inmates. Perry testified the ballot of inmate Cleveland Madison showed multiple violations. Not only was his absentee ballot application unsigned and notarized, but his 2009 felony conviction of receiving stolen property disenfranchised him from voting in the first place.
The day ended with Malcolm Jones still questioning Perry, while the defense team fruitlessly raised repeated objections to what they deemed Perry’s dubious expert qualifications.
Specially appointed Judge William Coleman shot most of them down, however — causing frustration on the part of the defense team.
The DuPree team had fought and lost an important pitched battle earlier in the day, when they objected to the plaintiff’s tendering Perry as an expert witness in the fields of election training, procedure and conduct.
DuPree attorney Brandon Jones argued that Perry, who is chairman of the Hinds County Republican Party, did not meet any of the qualifications of an expert witness, including whether his technique in the field of election procedure enjoyed general acceptance in the scientific community.
“Look, I don’t want to somehow suggest that Mr. Perry is not respected as a very valuable member of the Republican party, but I don’t think that’s the type of science that is accepted under the standard,” Brandon Jones said sarcastically.