Mt. Vernon Register-News

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July 14, 2010

State's attorney election trial begins

MT. VERNON — The Jefferson County State’s Attorney election contest trial started on Tuesday, with a parade of witnesses who voted in the Nov. 4, 2008, election being called by former candidate Nicole Villani.

Villani filed a lawsuit contesting the result of the election, naming respondents Jefferson County State’s Attorney Jeff Bradley and Jefferson County Clerk Connie Simmons as the election authority. The lawsuit was filed after Villani petitioned for a discovery recount of nine precincts: Bald Hill, Elk Prairie, McClellan 2, Mt. Vernon 9, Mt. Vernon 10, Mt. Vernon 11, Mt. Vernon 12, Mt. Vernon 13 and Mt. Vernon 14. Also, Villani inspected ballot applications and voter affidavits for the precincts.

The official results of the election had Democrat Bradley winning the contest by 69 votes against Republican Villani.

In her lawsuit, Villani further alleges voter fraud in Mt. Vernon 12 precinct, stating all the ballots and voter applications were numbered and individual votes could be identified.

During his opening statements on Tuesday, Villani’s attorney, Morris Lane Harvey, claimed there was “such a pervasive practice of irregularities in that precinct from start to finish ... that Mt. Vernon 12 precinct in relation to votes cast on election day, should not be counted at all.”

Harvey claimed irregularities such as not enough Republican judges, someone acting as an election judge who had not been sworn in for that position, numbering ballots before allowing voters to cast them and judges allowing others to sign their name on official election documents.

“A pattern of irregularities at this point is established by fact in motions for summary judgment,” Harvey claimed. “There have already been nullified about 25 percent of the votes in that precinct.”

Harvey further alleged employees in Simmons’ office altered documents from the time of the discovery recount to the start of the trail.

Harvey claimed that with the 183 ballots which have been thrown out at this time by the rules of apportionment, “Mr. Bradley’s lead has evaporated. It’s gone. If the court were to decide today at this time, Ms. Villani is in excess of 13 votes in the lead. There are not enough ballots left in play in the precincts contested to change the results of Ms. Villani’s lead.”

That statement was called into question by Bradley’s attorney, Bill Milner.

“By my tally, Mr. Bradley has a 1.5 vote lead,” Milner said in his opening statements. “There are enough votes out there to swing it either way.”

Milner said the 15 votes in Mt. Vernon 12 have been deducted from the vote totals because they were not signed by judges — all of which were in favor of Bradley.

“(Harvey) has insinuated, said, there was stuffing of ballots,” Milner said. “That’s not what has happened. ... There were Republican and Democrat judges there.”

Milner said questions about numbers on ballots and applications for ballots is “not as simple as admitting each voter received a ballot that was numbered.”

“We will present witnesses ... they have no problem giving up their right to secrecy and tell us who they voted for in the election, and their votes on the ballot don’t match up to the number on the application. ... The ballots are not such as can be determine the votes cast by the ballot number and the application number.”

Milner said to throw out all votes in Mt. Vernon 12 would be to “totally disenfranchise 80 percent of the voters in that precinct.”

“There are 80 percent of those in the precinct who had a right to cast their vote. For the court to find fraud so pervasive ... it’s a high standard. I don’t think the court will disenfranchise 80 percent of the vote because 20 percent of the votes are found to be bad.”

Jim Hanson, attorney for Simmons, said Villani has targeted Mt. Vernon 12 from the beginning because of the markings on the ballot.

“The markings were not put on the ballot by any voters,” Hanson said. “The testimony will be much different from what (Villani) alleges. The votes in that precinct were 154 to 23 against (Villani), so it was important for her to target those areas — and it’s in the south part of town.”

Hanson said the alleged improper signature between election judges would be shown to stem from a mother and daughter communicating across a room.

“There was no fraud, no intent to change the election results,” Hanson said. “Every voter’s vote should count and every vote be treated the same way. ... The people in Mt. Vernon 12 never expected their ballots to be exposed to public scrutiny.”

The majority of witnesses called on Tuesday testified they had not changed their address on voter registration cards — or they had been moving from one address to another during the time in question. They also testified, under cross-examination, they didn’t think there was a problem with the address being different, as the new address was in the same voting precinct.

The trial is scheduled to last the remainder of the week and Harvey said he expects to finish calling witnesses this afternoon.

Witnesses for the plaintiffs will be available for testimony at that time.

Harvey has asked the court to certify results of the election on completion of the trial — either naming Villani the new winner, or reaffirming Bradley in the position.

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