Election commission races take on high profile

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 3, 2000

This is one in a series of reports on races leading up to Tuesday’s voting.

Usually free of controversy and low on voters’ radar, election commission seats have had higher visibility in Warren County this year.

Three of the five positions on general election ballots will be contested Tuesday. A fourth would have been, but veteran elections leader and commission chairman Lena Corbin died last month.

Four years ago, only one seat was contested and in that race, District 2 commissioner Retha Summers won with nearly twice as many votes as her opponent. Tuesday, Summers will be the only unopposed incumbent.

Election commission district lines are the same as for county supervisors. The elections are held in the federal cycle instead of with other county and state offices to lessen confusion.

In the District 4 race, independent candidate Bobbie Williamson said she decided to seek public office after retiring from nursing after 30 years.

“I’ve always been interested in elected office and the people who run our country,” she said.

Williamson, 66, will face incumbent James E. “Mac” McMullin, a Republican, to work with other commissioners in preparing voter rolls, training poll workers, designing ballots for precincts and subprecincts and conducting general elections.

McMullin, who declined to reveal his age, is seeking a third term.

“You’ve really got to like this kind of work to do it,” McMullin said.

That work includes maintaining a list of eligible voters and assigning them to one of 22 precincts. The problem is that many people move, but never notify the election commission, McMullin said.

“We need to educate the people to let us know when they move,” he said.

Voters who move are supposed to inform either the election commission or the Circuit Clerk’s Office. Often, moving will put them in another district and require them to cast ballots in a different precinct.

Voters who have not notified the commission of a move will still be able to vote in this election, but will have to cast an affidavit ballot, McMullin said.

In another contested election commission race, Republican Karoline Finch, 43, said she feels confident about her chances in District 5.

“If I don’t win, it will not be because I haven’t tried,” Finch said.

She will face incumbent Gordon “Motor” Carr, a fellow Republican. They have been campaigning door-to-door throughout District 5.

Finch said she decided to run after paper ballots were used when printed ballots ran out at two county precincts in 1999.

“After the last election, it was very evident that the election laws were not being followed,” she said.

Last year, it took over two hours for election officials to complete the counting of copied ballots used after the Culkin and Beechwood precincts ran out of machine-ready forms two hours before polls closed.

Carr, 77, said this year there should be enough ballots for voters Tuesday. A total of 25,000 ballots have been printed in anticipation of the election.

Unlike his opponent, Carr said he has not had much time to lobby for re-election because of his duties in getting everything ready for Tuesday’s voting.

“I sure could have used some of that time (at the courthouse) to campaign,” he said.

Carr was elected to the commission in a special election in 1997. Finch filed a protest over his listing on the ballot, saying his service as a jury commissioner meant he was ineligible for an election commission appointment.

Like Finch, Republican Nancy Clingan, 59, said she got into the District 3 election commission race because she saw problems in the election process.

“I had learned things about the election process that disturbed me,” Clingan said.

Clingan, former chairman of Vicksburg’s Civil Service Commission, said people voting in more than one county and votes being cast in the names of dead people are two issues that motivated her to seek the job.

“Every vote should count, and everybody should vote only once,” she said.

She is challenging incumbent LaShondra Williams, a Democrat, for the post. Williams, 25, was elected to the commission during a 1999 special election.

Williams said she hopes voters will elect her to her first full term on the commission.

In the District 1 race, Johnny Brewer will also be unopposed on Tuesday’s ballot. Initially denied a ballot listing because his petition was not verified before the deadline, Brewer sued and won. Supervisors reversed themselves and listed him.

Corbin, who would have been his opponent, died the same day the judge appointed to hear the matter ruled Brewer had completed requirements for ballot listing.

Commissioners are paid $70 per day, but are limited to working no more that 65 days per year to maintain voter rolls and 35 more in years when there is a general election. That translates to a maximum of $7,000 per year.

Other contests on Warren County ballots Tuesday will include the presidential race, a U.S. Senate seat and U.S. representative’s slot.

In local races, five candidates are asking to serve the remaining three years on the term of former Coroner L.W. Callaway III. Callaway was appointed director of the county’s Emergency Management Agency in August. The coroner candidates are Ronald C. Regan, Allen Maxwell, Mark Morgan, Wanda Shay Clark Odom and John A. Thomason III.

Warren County Circuit Court Judge Frank Vollor will seek to unseat one-term incumbent Jim Smith for the Mississippi Supreme Court District 1, Position 3 spot.

District 2 U.S. House Rep. Bennie Thompson is seeking another two years in Washington and has three opponents: Republican Hardy Caraway, Libertarian William Chipman and Reform Party candidate Lee Dilworth.

Democrat Troy Brown Sr. is looking to upset Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, a Republican from Pascagoula who is running for a third six-year term. Other hopefuls in that race are Libertarian Lewis Napper, Reform Party candidate Shawn O’Hara and independent Jim Giles.

On the Mississippi Court of Appeals, incumbent Leslie King will be unopposed in his bid for his second six-year term in District 2, Position 2.

Zelmarine Murphy is unopposed in her bid for re-election to the School Board District 2 spot.