Candidates discuss voting, redistricting issues at Warren County forum

Published 2:43 pm Friday, October 27, 2023

Three candidates attending Thursday’s candidate forum discussed their reasons for running for their respective offices and gave their opinions on what’s needed in state government, but many of the audience’s questions centered on elections and voting.

The forum was sponsored by Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, the First Mississippi Chapter of Blacks in Government, the Vicksburg Branch of the NAACP, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. Its purpose was to let residents question the candidates to learn more about them and their platforms.

Many of the questions, however, were prefaced with, “This is for all of you,” and addressed issues involving elections and voting.

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Secretary of State candidate Ty Pinkins set the stage early in the forum during his opening comments.

“It makes no sense that today as we stand here, 41 other states have figured out how to implement online voter registration and I’ll give you one guess as to which state has not: Mississippi,” he said. “Furthermore, 47 other states have figured out how to implement no-excuse early voting.”

If 41 states and 47 states “have already written those roadmaps for us, and Michael Watson has been in office for 16 years and he hasn’t figured out a way to go and get those free roadmaps because you can Google it and implement it right here in Mississippi, it’s time for him to go home,” Pinkins said.

Concerning a question on redistricting and gerrymandering, the practice of drawing district lines to exclude groups, District 85 representative candidate Jeffery Harness said a lawsuit has been filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP challenging the state’s redistricting plan, but said the people have another avenue to fight gerrymandering: voting.

“We’re our own enemy because we fail. In these endeavors, we fail to go out and we fail to count ourselves. We fail to count our children, we fail to count our families. The only way that I can see us surpassing these issues when it comes to redrawing lines is that we go out and vote,” Harness said.

Attorney General candidate Greta Kemp Martin mentioned the ACLU suit and discussed a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision forcing Alabama to redraw its congressional district lines to comply with the federal Voting Rights Act regulations.

The court she said, has “truly written out the blueprint for Mississippi’s ACLU to go in and win.” Martin took a shot at Attorney General Lynn Finch, saying Fitch’s office has attorneys “that already believe that our district gerrymandering is the kind of problem that kind of solves itself.”

Martin said gerrymandering does not affect her office as much as it does state representatives, adding she and others are watching what happens in Alabama.

Pinkins said legislators are not the only elected officials affected by gerrymandering, pointing out supreme and appeals court judges and public service and transportation commissioners also run by districts.

“When you look at our Supreme Court Justices, we have had Black Supreme Court Justices, but they have not been elected by the people; they’ve been appointed,” Pinkins said.

“They’ll get appointed and then they’ll run and then they’ll lose. Then to appease the Black community, they’ll appoint someone else. I’m for that (redistricting) case against the state of Mississippi to force (the Legislature) to redraw three Supreme Court justice districts.”

Asked about the practice of periodically purging vote rolls, Pinkins said, “A person should only be purged from rolls for one reason, one reason alone: If they are no longer living. That’s my opinion. I don’t think you should purge a person from roles because they didn’t vote in the last presidential election.

“That is not a reason to take away from an American that fundamental right.”

Martin addressed another voting issue — restoring an ex-convict’s right to vote.

The state’s ban on restoring voting rights, she said, “Is an unconstitutional ban. It’s been held that way across the country and across circuits. And the fact that the Fifth Circuit, the most conservative federal court circuit in the United States, believes it’s unconstitutional, says something. And the fact that the state is appealing it says even more.”

Harness agreed, saying Fitch is defending “these old archaic segregationist Jim Crow laws” which were put in to disfranchise Black voters to vote.

“We’ve got about almost 300,000 African-American people who have been convicted of felonies like nonviolent offenses,” Harness said. “They cannot vote.”

Voting and other issues, Pinkins said, make the coming election important.

“I’ve been all over this state,” Pinkins said. “I’m telling you people are excited. Mississippians are excited because we are at a crossroads right now.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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