Voting official speaks out after ‘magical thumb drive’ mix-up in Coast Senate race

A “magical thumb drive” with votes that changed the outcome of the District 50 Mississippi Senate race is why Scott DeLano will likely request a recount, the Republican said Thursday.

DeLano faced off against Biloxi Councilwoman Dixie Newman, also a Republican, in the 2019 Mississippi primary elections Tuesday night. The winner in the race would take the seat. There was not a Democrat competitor.

With 100% of precincts reporting Tuesday night, DeLano was ahead of Newman by 33 votes. The race was not called then because affidavit ballots would need to be counted.

DeLano said 22 affidavits were counted Wednesday morning. He garnered 4 more points, putting him ahead by 37.

Things changed Wednesday afternoon, he said.

A jump drive from the North Bay precinct in D’Iberville wasn’t counted Tuesday night, said Harrison County Circuit Clerk Connie Ladner. Another jump drive from the Lyman precinct was also missed, but that did not affect the Senate race.

Both jump drives, unknowingly in one of the election bags Tuesday night, were locked in Ladner’s office until she discovered them Wednesday and called a technician.

The race has not been certified because voters who did not bring their ID to vote have five business days to bring their proof of identification to Ladner’s office. The deadline is 5 p.m. Tuesday. The certification process will begin after that, Ladner said.

“I’m up by 37 votes, and then a magical thumb drive appears that’s been sitting on Connie’s desk for half the day,” DeLano said. “We didn’t know anything about it until 4:30 in the afternoon, and the vote swings one to my opponent.”

Ladner said that affidavit votes were not scanned in until Wednesday afternoon, after the missing jump drive votes were added to the totals.

Ladner said the final total calculated Wednesday put Newman ahead by one point, and the vote totals matched the tapes.

DeLano said it’s irregular that a jump drive with votes would be found the day after the election results were recorded with 100% of precincts reporting.

“I’m concerned about the integrity of the race ... and why wasn’t there a reconciliation of votes from individual precincts the night before (Tuesday),” DeLano said.

“Why didn’t somebody know that there was a thumb drive missing on Tuesday night before everyone attested to the accuracy of the work they performed that night?”

Ladner said the vote numbers released Tuesday night was only the totals from the jump drives from the polling places. The numbers were incorrect then because of the North Bay jump drive that had unknowingly not been counted, causing a discrepancy. The tapes were reviewed Wednesday.

“I take this job very seriously, and if I see something that’s wrong or where someone made a mistake, I’m going to address it, and I’m going to correct it, which we did,” she said.

The Newman campaign wasn’t surprised at DeLano’s request.

“It is within his rights to request a recount,” said Newman campaign manager Holly Gibbs said. “I would expect nothing less.”

Gibbs said Thursday that Newman will likely wait until the results are made official before making a statement to the media.

“She’s just taking it in right now,” Gibbs said. “It’s been emotional.”

DeLano said he expects to ask the Republican Executive Committee to review the votes.

“All I want is a fair process,” DeLano said. “I have no idea how the chain of custody for that jump drive was compromised. ...With only a one-point difference, I think that it would be the responsible thing to do.”

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Justin Mitchell is the southern regional growth editor for the Biloxi Sun Herald, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer and Macon Telegraph. He also reports on LGBTQ issues in the Deep South. He loves karaoke, Lizzo, the Kardashians and carbs.