MARSHALL — A recently reelected Marshall city commissioner has denied allegations of election fraud presented by her challenger from the May 4 election.
District 2 Marshall City Commissioner Gail Beil edged out Leo Morris Sr. in the election by 15 votes, 126 to 111.
Morris last week filed an election fraud complaint against Beil with the Harrison County District Clerk’s office.
He charges Beil with committing election fraud by hiring campaign worker Mary Smith, who voted early in April then arrived at the polls on election day — an act he said violated election code.
Morris had photographs taken of Smith at Marshall Convention Center, a polling location, on election day.
He requested in his complaint that the election be “nullified” and the city of Marshall pay for a new election.
Beil’s lawyer responded to the allegations late Monday.
“I have volunteered on a pro bono basis to represent my longtime friend Gail Beil and her campaign against false accusations of election fraud brought by Leo Morris,” Mike Miller said.
He said Beil had not received a copy of the allegations as of Monday evening.
“But, based on my preliminary investigation, it appears that Mr. Morris’ accusations are ill founded both legally and factually,” Miller said.
Miller said Beil is owed an apology, because Morris didn’t check the election code he is citing in his complaint for case precedent before bringing the election fraud claims.
Morris did not return calls for comment Tuesday.
“The photograph apparently underlying Morris’ allegations was taken around 6:45 p.m. on election day,” Miller said. “The subject of the photo, Ms. Smith, was driving two elderly voters to the polls that day. On arrival at the polling location, the voters found the doors locked and looked to Ms. Smith for assistance.
“Ms. Smith got out of her car and rapped on one of the building’s windows to attract the attention of voting officials inside the polling place. The voting officials confirmed the actual time independently and realizing they’d closed the polls early, they duly let the couple inside so they might cast their votes. Meanwhile, Ms. Smith returned to her car to wait for the couple to return.”
Miller said assisting the couple is not a violation of the election code for Smith — or for Beil.
“If these facts that have been related to me are true, Ms. Smith’s actions were not just lawful and proper, but deserving of our admiration,” Miller said. “Likewise, these actions do not violate Section 61.003 of the Texas Election Code. Interpreting the precursor to that statute almost one hundred years ago, a Texas court determined neither candidates, nor their campaign workers, are prohibited from being present at a polling place.
“To be properly charged with violating the election code, Ms. Smith must be shown to have been either loitering or electioneering. Based on the facts recited above, she was doing neither.”
Morris said in his complaint that Smith’s actions were, indeed, electioneering and loitering, a violation of the election code.
“Election fraud was committed by the campaign of incumbent Gail Beil,” Morris wrote in his complaint. “Campaign worker Mary Smith was loitering and electioneering while working in the campaign of Gail Beil for Marshall City Commission.”
“Financial records submitted by the Gail Beil campaign list reveals that Mary Smith was employed by the Gail Beil campaign,” the complaint says.
Campaign records obtained by Morris show Beil paid Smith $300 for “contract labor” as part of her campaign expenditures.
Morris also had photos of Smith holding the front door of the Marshall Convention Center on May 4 and an additional record showing Smith cast her votes on April 22 during early voting.
Morris notified the Marshall News Messenger he had filed the complaint with Harrison County District Clerk Sherry Griffis on May 7. Griffis denied having officially filed Morris’ complaint and declined to release a copy.
Griffis said May 8 she had passed the complaint to Harrison County District Attorney Reid McCain, because she wasn’t certain the complaint should be filed in her office.
Morris provided a full copy of his complaint May 9.
“I did receive and review the complaint,” McCain said Friday. “According to the letter attached to it, he is requesting the results of the election be nullified, but that is not within the jurisdiction of the District Attorney’s Office. That is within the sole jurisdiction and authority of the Secretary of State’s Office.”
Morris said he had contacted the Secretary of State’s Office about his complaint and was told to file his complaint with the county district clerk.
Harrison County Elections Administrator Donald Robinette said Friday that he had not received or heard about Morris’ complaint but he was aware that Morris requested a recount of the votes.
Robinette said Morris will be responsible for covering the costs of the recount, because he is the candidate requesting the recount. Morris asked that the recount be conducted by hand.
“These actions contributed to the final vote count of the difference of 15 votes,” Morris said. “Through my research and information obtained from the Texas Secretary of State, it is my understanding election fraud has been committed.”
The Marshall City Commissioners on May 9 postponed the swearing in of the newly elected candidates Beil, Amy Ware and Marvin Bonner Sr., pending the recount.