Marion Mayor’s election goes to court

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 27, 2005

MARION-Day one of the contested mayor’s election in Marion went as expected with Robert D. Bryant’s team going straight after the absentee ballots in question. For the last several months Bryant’s attorneys have been attempting to uncover evidence through ballot inspections.

The main focus of day one hinged on the inconsistencies of addresses in the absentee ballots cast during the election.

AS expected, the goal of Bryant’s legal team throughout the trial will be to have all the absentee ballots thrown out which would declare Bryant as the winner of last summer’s election. Bryant actually was the winner at the polls gathering 640 popular votes to Tony Long’s 471. However, Long had a strong showing in absentee ballots gaining 649 to 357 of the ballots cast. These numbers drew a red flag from Bryant who forced the challenge.

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In his opening statement Long’s attorney Jim Barnes said he expected the questionable ballots to reflect improper votes for both candidates. He said the mistaken addresses could have come from a variety of reasons and may not be grounds to dismiss votes.

“To disenfranchise votes you have to have a really good reason,” Bryant said. “You can’t just have someone come up here and say they forgot to check a box or didn’t check a box at all.”

Barnes said problems with votes could have come from several reasons such as families sitting down to cast their absentee ballots together and getting the envelopes mixed up. He said these people had not attempted to purposely break the law and their votes should be sorted out, placed with the proper information and counted.

Robert Turner, who was representing Bryant showed several occasions where ballot addresses did not match affidavit addresses. Turner called Registrar Reese Billingsly to the stand to help him stress his point.

Billingsly said as a registrar his duty was to make sure people are put in their proper district when they register to vote.

“We have to ask them questions,” Billingsly said. “And if questions come in about them we have to get back with them and ask them about that. We always ask them if they signed the form because once you have signed the form you have taken an oath.”

Billingsly was then asked to read a series of different absentee ballots cast in the election and point out the problems with each. In one case, the address on the application for an absentee ballot read E. Lafayette Street, which is in city District Four. However, the address of the affidavit was District One.

Another example showed an application address of Magnolia Drive, also known as Industrial Drive, which falls in District Five. However, the address of the affidavit listed the address as Lincoln Park, which is in District Two.

Turner continued to submit evidence to the same effect throughout the morning.

Bryant countered the evidence submitted by saying it did not necessarily have a profound impact on the outcome of the election because where they were cast had little relevance as long as registered voters cast them within the city limits.

“If they are in the city limits of Marion then it doesn’t really matter what district their addresses are listed as,” Bryant said. “We are not here to argue if they live in District One, District Two or District Three. AS long as they live in the City of Marion what difference does it make?”

Barnes said the addresses could have been different because they were not staying at their permanent address at the time.

“People don’t always get their mail where they lay their head every night,” Barnes said. “A lot of people get their mail in other areas.”