- Associated Press - Thursday, January 14, 2016

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - The Mississippi House might find a way to resolve a disputed election by counting one ballot that was set aside in November amid questions about a voter’s name that changed because of marriage.

The District 79 race in Smith and Jasper counties ended in a tie between Democratic Rep. Bo Eaton of Taylorsville and Republican challenger Mark Tullos of Raleigh. Eaton won a tiebreaker in a ceremonial drawing of straws overseen by the governor and secretary of state, and he was inaugurated for his sixth term last week.

But Tullos is asking the House to declare him the winner by saying the race never should have been tied because he believes votes were not properly counted. If Tullos prevails, Republicans would gain a three-fifths supermajority in the House and they could enact tax changes without help from Democrats.

Rep. Mark Baker, R-Brandon, is chairman of a House committee hearing Tullos’ challenge. Baker said Thursday he’s inclined to open and count one more provisional ballot if officials with the secretary of state’s office can confirm the identity of the voter, Elvira Dawn Tullos Gorey.

Smith County election officials had rejected Gorey’s ballot, saying they were unsure if she was the same person as a Dawn Sanderford who had earlier registered in the county.

Gorey told The Associated Press in a phone interview Thursday night that she doesn’t think she and Tullos are related. She also said she doesn’t remember which candidate got her vote.

“I’m not a political person,” said Gorey, 34. “I go with my gut feeling unless my dad tells me who to vote for.”

Tullos was ahead after ballots were counted on election night, but officials later accepted nine provisional ballots, including five that were cast by voters who moved more than 30 days before the election. Those nine went 7 to 2 for Eaton.

Tullos’ attorney Michael Wallace asked the committee to reject those five ballots, citing a state Supreme Court decision. Disqualifying five would make Tullos the winner by at least one vote.

However, Assistant Secretary of State Kim Turner said state officials tell counties to count such ballots.

“They’re a registered voter,” Turner said. “They’ve moved within the county and they’ve appeared at the correct precinct.”

Eaton’s attorney, John Corlew, contends all affadavits accepted were correct. He said state law is silent on whether officials should reject ballots from voters who moved more than 30 days before an election.

Baker asked Turner to try to verify Gorey’s identity.

“My position is becoming, if you’re going to count the five that moved outside the 30 days, then you’re going to count this one if these people are one and the same,” Baker said.

The Senate, meanwhile, continues to consider a challenge in the District 37 election in including Adams, Amite, Franklin and Pike counties. Republican former Sen. Melanie Sojourner wants the Senate to overturn her 64-vote loss in the November general election to Democratic former Sen. Bob Dearing. Both are from Natchez.

A Republican poll watcher, Anita Leonard, testified Thursday before the Senate committee Thursday that she believes more than 100 violations of election laws took place in Bude precinct in Franklin County in November. But, Dearing’s attorney, Brad Pigott, said Leonard is accusing election officials of wrongdoing even though she was not able to fully see or hear all the interaction between poll workers and voters.

Leonard filed misdemeanor charges against five poll workers more than a week after the Nov. 3 general election. She accuses some of improperly helping voters and others of failing to check voters’ identification.

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