JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — In a Mississippi town that has trouble conducting a city election without someone being accused of a crime, voter fraud charges returned on Thursday.
Six people including an alderwoman and a school board member were arrested after being indicted on allegations of voting-related crimes in Canton that stem from a 2017 election. They face accusations that they bribed voters, improperly helped people fill out absentee ballots, voted despite being convicted of disqualifying felonies and voted even though they lived outside the city or voting district.
The allegations come at a time that a disputed North Carolina congressional race is bringing attention to alleged election skullduggery nationwide, but they're nothing new for Canton and its 13,000 residents.
Just north of Jackson, Canton is a predominantly African-American town known as the home of Nissan Motor Co.'s assembly plant and for a picturesque town square that has served as a movie location. But those attractions belie a reputation for contentious politics that regularly produce upheaval. Six people were convicted of voting-related charges after 2009 elections, while one was convicted after 2013 elections.
Madison County Assistant District Attorney Bryan Buckley told the Madison County Journal that the investigation began after "voluminous" complaints about 2017's city election, and that more indictments are expected.
Voter fraud carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
The highest-profile person indicted was 68-year-old alderwoman and former police chief Vickie McNeil, who's accused of four counts of voter fraud. She is alleged to have illegally helped people cast absentee ballots when she was running for re-election. McNeil declined comment to reporters after signing her indictment paperwork. She was released on $4,000 bail.
But the heaviest charges are against 38-year-old Courtney Rainey, who is appointed to the city school board and is Canton's director of human and cultural needs. Rainey was indicted on 10 counts of voter fraud, two counts of conspiring to commit voter fraud, two counts of voting by an unqualified person and one count of intimidating a witness.
The indictments allege Rainey paid four people for their votes in cash and one with a Walmart gift card. She is also accused of inducing a man named Donnell Robinson to vote even though he'd been convicted of a disqualifying felony, as well as twice voting illegally in Canton elections even though she no longer lived there. The indictment alleges Rainey then tried to get a woman Rainey paid off to change the story she had given to investigators. She's also accused of conspiring with another of the city's seven aldermen, Andrew Grant. Grant has not been indicted.
A lawyer for Rainey didn't immediately respond to a phone call and email seeking comment Wednesday. Rainey is free on $15,000 bail.
Both Grant and McNeil easily won both their Democratic primary and general elections in 2017, so it's unclear why their candidacies might have needed illegal assistance. All the city officials elected in 2017 are Democrats.
"It's almost like having a family of seven and one member decides to do something that's not in the interest of the family," Mayor William Truly, a political ally of McNeil who watched her in court, told WAPT-TV.
Desma King, a deputy Canton city clerk, was indicted on two counts of voter fraud. The 44-year-old is accused of illegally helping someone vote in the Ward 7 alderman's race even though the voter no longer lived in that ward. King is free on $2,000 bail and a lawyer didn't return a phone call and email.
Donnell Robinson, a 52-year-old mentioned in the Rainey indictments, was himself indicted on two counts of voter fraud and two counts of voting by an unqualified person. He is accused of twice casting an absentee ballot in 2017 even though he was disqualified because of a 1995 conviction for receiving stolen property. He remained jailed Thursday.
Jennifer Robinson, 45, is indicted on one count of voter fraud and one count of voting by an unqualified person for voting in the Ward 7 election even though she no longer lived there. She's free on $2,000 bail and a lawyer didn't return a phone call and email.
Sherman Matlock, 44, was indicted on counts of voter fraud and voting by an unqualified person on charges that Matlock cast an absentee ballot even though disqualified by a manslaughter conviction. Matlock remained jailed Thursday. It is unclear whether Matlock or Donnell Robinson has an attorney.
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This story has been corrected to show that one defendant is a woman named Desma King, not a man named Desmand King.