Controversy envelops 2 election panel races

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 27, 2000

Disqualified candidate Johnny Brewer said Monday he will appeal a decision by Warren County supervisors in which they rejected his application to seek a county election commission post.

And while Brewer is seeking to have his name placed on the Nov. 7 ballot in District 1, District 5 Election Commission candidate Karoline Finch has challenged the qualifications of her opponent and wants him removed from the ballot.

Brewer said Tuesday that he would take his fight to Warren County Circuit Court. His petition to be on the ballot was filed in the Warren County Circuit Clerk’s Office at 4:30 p.m. on Sept. 8, but a ballot listing was denied by supervisors after the board learned his petition had not been verified before the close of business that deadline day.

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“I’m hoping that we can come to a consensus and that all candidates can be treated the same,” Brewer said.

Brewer said he wants treatment equal to that given LaSondra Williams in her bid for the District 3 Election Commission spot in a 1999 special election.

In any special election, candidates have until 60 days before the November general election, on Sept. 3 in 1999, to qualify with the Chancery Clerk’s Office, according to state law. Like Brewer, records show Williams waited until that day to file with the Circuit Clerk’s Office and, like Brewer’s, her petition was not verified that day.

The names of 50 registered voters required on Williams’ petition were confirmed Sept. 7, 1999, four days after the deadline, and the petition was stamped received by the Chancery Clerk’s Office on Sept. 10.

On Sept. 17, 1999, Williams’ petition was accepted by the board of supervisors and she was elected on Nov. 2, 1999. Williams previously had been appointed by the board to fill a vacant commission seat.

“I don’t have an ax to grind with anyone,” Brewer said. But, “this needs to be aired out.”

According to the Secretary of State’s Office, election commission candidates are required to submit their petitions to the Chancery Clerk’s Office 60 days before the election, but they also are supposed to file with the Circuit Clerk’s Office “a reasonable time in advance” to have the petition verified.

“I think this is a dumb law and it needs to be changed,” Brewer said.

Of filing in the Circuit Clerk’s Office, “As I understood it, that was the traditional thing to do in Warren County,” he said.

Election commission races are normally low-key. The commissioners work for per diem pay assigning voters to precincts based on district lines, preparing ballots, training poll workers and conducting general elections.

In addition to Brewer, all of the other eight candidates in the election commission races filed at the Circuit Clerk’s Office before filing with the Chancery Clerk’s Office. Williams and Finch also waited until Sept. 8 to file their petitions with the circuit clerk, and both were certified by the Chancery Clerk’s Office on the same day.

Without Brewer’s name on the ballot, Lena Corbin, who serves as the commission chairman, will be unopposed in the District 1 race.

Brewer has until Friday to file the appeal with the courts.

While he is looking toward having his day in court, Finch heard this morning that she will not get the public hearing she sought before the board of supervisors.

Her opponent, District 5 incumbent Gordon “Motor” Carr, she discovered, was also serving on the Warren County Jury Commission despite a state law that says citizens on the panel that prepares lists of prospective jurors from voter rolls cannot have other public jobs.

Based on Finch’s protest, supervisors president Richard George asked Carr on Monday to resign from the jury commission post. The resignation was accepted by supervisors when they met Tuesday.

“It’s too late to resign,” Finch said. “He should have done that before the deadline.”

With their action Tuesday, supervisors consider the matter resolved, George said. “There is no challenge to his qualifications that we can see,” he said.

The Mississippi statute on challenging candidates allows any person to contest the qualifications of a candidate by filing a petition with the appropriate election officials, in this case, the board of supervisors. The law requires officials to rule on the petition within 10 days, but in a different sentence in the same section talks about giving notice on when a hearing will be held.

Finch reads the wording to indicate a hearing is required. George said supervisors can rule without a hearing.

“She did not indicate to me that she had any problem with this,” George said this morning.

But Finch said she does have a problem with Carr remaining on the ballot and is expecting the board to hold a hearing.

“It appears they are ignoring the law when it suits them,” she said.

The next step for Finch would be to file an appeal with the Warren County Circuit Court. The appeal has to be filed within 15 days of the filing of the petition, providing until Oct. 2.

“I haven’t decided that far yet,” she said.

Although a state law prohibits an elected official, such as an election commissioner, from serving on another government commission, Carr, on the election commission since 1997, has continued to serve on the jury commission.

Although she could point to no specific law that prohibits Carr from filing as a candidate at the time, Finch contends he should have been rejected as a qualified candidate because he was still on the jury commission when the qualification deadline passed on Sept. 8.

“As an election commissioner, he should have known the law,” she said.

Mike Lanford of the Attorney General’s Office said Carr’s dual posts should not prevent him from qualifying for the election commission race. Although Carr cannot legally hold both positions at the same time, as he has for the past three years, he can run in the election while serving as jury commissioner, Lanford said.

Lanford, however, also agreed with Finch that Carr should have resigned his jury commission post before taking office as an election commissioner.

“If the board of supervisors had followed the law to begin with, we would not be here right now,” Finch said.

In other election commission races, Williams will face Nancy Clingan in District 3. In District 2, incumbent Retha Summers faces no opposition, and incumbent James E. McMullin will face Bobbie Williamson in the District 4 race.