The reason behind the late return of final Forrest County ballot box

The reason behind the late return of final Forrest County ballot box

FORREST COUNTY, MS (WDAM) - The ballot box from the Dantzler Community Center in Forrest County's District 1 made a late showing at the Forrest County Courthouse after Tuesday's election.

The box arrived around 10:30 p.m., according to District 1 Election Commissioner Charles Phillips, but not without a detour.

Phillips said the woman in charge of the box holding 338 ballots, Candice Cook, took the box back to the warehouse where it is stored between elections instead of taking it to the courthouse to be counted.

"The box was under a deputy sheriff's supervision the entire time," Phillips said, mentioning a deputy on work detail at the warehouse.

Phillips said there was a miscommunication between Cook and the person who gave her instructions, but he called Cook "very knowledgeable and capable of what we're doing."

Although it was not done in routine fashion, Phillips said he brought the box into the courthouse, accompanied by a deputy. The box was the last one to arrive, and the highly contested sheriff's race was waiting on its count when the opponents were only 308 votes apart.

According to an election summary report, the Dantzler box contained 150 votes for incumbent Sheriff Billy McGee and 187 votes for his opponent, former Hattiesburg Police Chief Charlie Sims. McGee went on to win the race after absentee ballots were counted just before midnight.

"Nothing was tampered with, and the memory card was secure," Phillips said.

Other than the memory cards, the ballot box, or bag, also includes paper work, instructions and poll books. Phillips said the memory cards are within that box in a separate, sealed bag.

Phillip's said this is Cook's fourth or fifth election to work in the county, and she has served in different capacities.

Tuesday's ballot box holdup reminded some of the late and questionable return of the Rowan box in the 2013 City of Hattiesburg mayoral runoff election. That box made its way to city hall five hours after polls closed, and it was not sealed when it arrived.