Marion Mayor’s Race heads to trial next Friday

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 20, 2005

MARION-As scheduled, the contested Marion Mayor’s race will go to trial on Tuesday July 26. The trial is hoped to bring to an end all the questions and investigations that rose from last August’s Mayor’s race between current Mayor Anthony J. Long and challenger Robert D. Bryant.

Long’s attorney Jim Barnes said he feels Bryant’s team will try to prove a smaller number of the ballots were received illegally to give them a better shot at their case.

“They will be trying to prove that there are illegal ballots received by Mr. Long to challenge the election,” Barnes said. “I think 123 ballots will be a lot to overturn. They will probably try to prove at least 43 to force a runoff.”

Barnes said this would make their case easier to prove, but would still be a difficult process.

“Obviously, that is a shorter hill to climb,” Barnes said. “But 43 will still be hard to prove. We feel they will have a hard time proving it, but we will just have to see how it goes.”

Circuit Judge Marvin Wiggins issued a court order last March to open for inspection the sealed election materials from last August’s mayor’s race, in which Long defeated Bryant. The order and the inspection, which was begun at Marion’s City Hall in that same month, marked the final phase of the “discovery” process of Bryant’s contest of the election.

Following the inspection a trial date for the contest was originally set for May 16, however, that date was delayed. Now it appears both parties will be ready when July 26 rolls around.

The outcome of the trial is expected to hinge on evidence Bryant and his representation were able to uncover during the ballot inspection. Bryant sought evidence, such as voter addresses from outside city limits, which would allow him to challenge some of the many absentee ballots cast for Long. Bryant took more votes at the polls, 640 to 471, but Long defeated him in the absentee box 649 to 357 to win the election.

The absentee votes drew a red flag from Bryant and inspired the challenge.

Marion attorney James Barnes, Long’s attorney, took part in an inspection alongside Bryant, his representatives, and other supporters of Long and acknowledged that the occasional odd ballot could be successfully challenged. However, Barnes said he doubted there was enough of them to make a difference in whether Long would remain mayor.

Attempts to reach Long and Bryant were unsuccessful.

The examination of the votes included repeated Xeroxing and examination of hundreds of ballots.

The trial comes on the in the midst of the Greensboro Mayors ballot inspections in Montgomery which will also continue next week.