GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - The decision on who won the Gulfport ward two council race may come down to a choice between what's fair and what's legal. David Andre and Ricky Dombowski appeared before the Republican Executive Committee to make the case for who should serve for the next four years. Dombrowski was certified the nominee. Andre tried to convince the committee that the results should be otherwise.
Andre's attorney Cory Wilson told the committee, "Under the law the physical count of the ballots trumps the machine vote count of the ballots."
During a hand count of ballots, David Andre's campaign staff members said their math didn't add up to a Dombrowski victory.
John Heath served at treasurer of the Andre campaign and took part in the hand count. "You have a total votes considered at 1,231 of that Andre has 616 and Dombrowski has 615," said Heath.
During the review of the ballots, Andre's camp said a vote for Andre was discovered that the machine didn't record. They also said one ballot cast for Dombrowski is invalid because a poll worker failed to initial it as required by law. However, Dombrowski's attorney said since it was not the voter's mistake and there is no suggestion of wrongdoing, throwing out the vote would be unfair to the voter.
Dombrowski's team also questioned the fairness of Andre's request to throw out all of the absentee ballots claiming some of them were improperly submitted. The absentee ballots in question were those given to people over the age of 65. They were allowed to vote by sending their envelopes though the mail rather than going to the city clerk's office. However, attorneys said some people failed to get a witness signature while other voters didn't follow the submission guidelines.
"What really offends me about the position this is taking is that you've got 20 absentee ballots and they're challenging six," said Tim Holleman, Dombrowski's attorney. "So they're going to disenfranchise 12 citizens of the city of Gulfport. Those 20 people chose to go through the trouble and vote. Those votes are serious votes. Eight of them were for Mr. Andre. Twelve were for Mr. Dombrowski. And for them to arbitrarily say let's throw out all 20 of them and declare Mr. Andre the victor in this situation is the epideme of bias and prejudice."
However, Wilson said state law said is that once invalid absentee ballots are mixed with other ballots then all of them are tainted and must be discarded.
"Of those 20 ballots I saw five absentee envelopes that should have never been opened and this is clear cut and dry Mississippi law," said Wilson. "What he says is arbitrary urging you to throw out the absentee ballots is a statute."
Holleman said it should be noted the hand count produced one less vote than the number of signatures in the poll book.
"The votes that are in that ballot box are the ones that should be counted regardless of the discrepancies between the signature booklet and the actual ballots that are in that ballot box," said Wilson.
Holleman said, "We feel that Mr. Dombrowski was judged the winner originally and that will be upheld. He was the winner of that election and is the nominee, Republican nominee for the ward two council position."
The Republican Executive Committee has the option of making a decision based on the evidence presented or launching its own investigation. Also at issue is that the number of votes counted in the hand count is one less than the number of signatures listed in the poll books.