May 11, 2013 10:28:47 PM
Carl Smith - [email protected]
Ward 2 alderman candidates Sandra Sistrunk and Lisa Wynn both agreed to delay the affidavit-certifying process for their election until 9 a.m. Monday.
The outcome of that race still hangs in the balance. Sistrunk led Wynn by two votes after Tuesday, but 11 affidavit ballots remain uncounted. Election commissioners originally rejected six affidavits and approved three Wednesday, but eight protested submissions were also accepted by the group.
The city originally asked for Secretary of State oversight during Friday's planned affidavit-processing time, but officials, candidates, counsel and election commissioners met behind closed doors and hashed out an agreement to delay the certification process until 9 a.m. Monday.
Starkville also faces a Monday deadline to certify its election results, although officials could ask for a stay if legal challenges emerge.
Sistrunk's attorney, Lydia Quarles, requested the delay to officials, and then Wynn met with the group after her challenger exited the meeting. Counsel did not file any legal injunction blocking Friday's planned session. The incumbent's counsel will continue researching election law issues surrounding eight challenged ballots during the delay.
"We certainly got a strong feeling from Ms. Sistrunk's attorney that waiting until Monday would be a prudent course," City Clerk Taylor Adams said.
Despite requests for state input on the challenged ballots, local Democratic Party Chairman Chris Taylor said those ballots were accepted by the election commission and will be counted Monday.
"Nine a.m. Monday morning, we're opening those. We don't have to get guidance (since the commission voted to accept the challenged ballots); we're opening them," he said. "What we say goes to Jackson. (Candidates) have 12 days from certification to file an appeal with the Secretary of State."
"I cannot speak for the Democratic committee, but I imagine each of the affidavits will be individually considered Monday morning," Adams said when asked if both contested and approved submissions would be opened. "The committee will have to rule on those challenges Monday."
Following Friday's agreement, Wynn told supporters she accepted the delay in order to prevent litigation which would have forced a new election for her ward and possibly others. Taylor said only a judge could call for new elections. No litigation was filed Friday.
"What would a judge rule? Redo Ward 2? Count? I have no idea," Taylor said. "That's not our call. Our call is to certify the primary because we are the Municipal Democratic Election Committee."
Sistrunk's legal counsel challenged a majority of the 17 affidavits Wednesday. Requests for further legal opinions remain lodged by Quarles for eight accepted ballots, and Wynn also asked for a state opinion on at least one of the six rejected ballots.
The matter under review is what constitutes an acceptable affidavit. These affidavits are supposed to be sworn statements which provide accurate information about the voter, and Sistrunk has challenged numerous documents due to various inaccuracies.
The first ballot contested Wednesday was from a voter who incorrectly listed her date of birth as the day of the primary. When cross-referenced in the state election system, officials confirmed her birth year as 1969. That same voter also provided a current Ward 2 address and stated she had not recently moved, but the state election database showed she was a registered voter of Ward 6.
Four election commissioners voted to reject the affidavit, but Wynn asked for an attorney general or secretary of state opinion on the matter.
The second affidavit was unanimously rejected by the election commission after the voter was not found on any registered voter rolls.
Numerous issues were raised with the third ballot examined by the candidates. First, the voter originally cast an affidavit ballot in the November presidential election which indicated a change-of-address request for her new address in Pecan Circle. The voter's sworn statement from Tuesday said she lived on Helen Circle. Election workers also discovered another former address was listed as Zuber Street on a previous affidavit.
Wynn contended eligible voters can move -- "be here today and gone tomorrow" -- and still have a right to vote as a qualified voter in that ward via affidavit.
That affidavit was also challenged because it appeared the voter entered her driver's license number in the phone number entry area. Election Commissioner Jim McKell said it appeared the voter's writing style produced large letters, and she simply ran out of room to input the information in the correct area.
Wynn asked what happens when a voter does not have a phone number, and McKell said a voter should write "no phone." Wynn then asked if those directions are written on the ballot, and Mckell said no.
"This is definitely not a telephone number," McKell said. "If you put something there, it's assumed that's a telephone number because it says 'daytime telephone number.'"
Sistrunk then looked up the voter's telephone listing on the Internet which confirmed a listing in Pecan Acres.
The commission unanimously accepted the affidavit, but Sistrunk then filed a challenge.
The 10th affidavit reviewed would also yield the same Helen Circle address. Officials said they believed this voter was either married or related to the first Helen Circle voter. This voter was last registered at a residence on Yellowjacket Drive as early as 2009, and a voter card was mailed to and returned from that address this year.
The commission also accepted the second Helen Circle affidavit under challenge.
The fourth affidavit was cast by a 17-year-old Linden Circle resident. Mississippi Code states voters who will be 18 before a general election may vote in the preceding primary. That voter listed his birthday as May 19 -- 12 days after the primary election -- and he registered to vote March 27.
The affidavit was challenged on the grounds the signature was illegible and an erroneous box was marked, but the commission voted to accept.
Election commissioners clarified previous questions surrounding the listed address for the voter producing the fifth affidavit. Originally, officials were unsure if her Louisville Street address was in Ward 2, but visual inspection and map comparison cleared the matter. City Clerk staff determined the voter was erroneously left off the ward's rolls. This affidavit was accepted unanimously, and no challenge was levied.
The sixth affidavit was not challenged after city officials determined the listed Arrowhead Drive address falls within city limits. Commissioners rejected the seventh, eighth and ninth affidavits because it was determined those voters' addresses falls outside Starkville.
Address issues were discovered by officials in regard to the 11th affidavit. Election data showed she registered at a county address in August 2012 and cast a county vote in that year's 2012 presidential election. That voter's Tuesday affidavit listed her address as Lynn Lane, which was also listed as a mailing address for the 2012 election, but did not attest to recently moving.
Sistrunk challenged the vote on the grounds of the addressing issue, an inaccurate driver's license number and signature issues.
Commissioners voted 4-1 to accept the ballot under challenge.
The group also accepted the 12th affidavit, which was originally challenged because the voter did not list her full name.
The 13th affidavit was cast by a 17-year-old who will be 18 by the June general election. The statewide election management system confirmed she registered to vote April 16, less than 30 days before the primary.
This affidavit was set aside for an attorney general ruling after state statute could not clarify if the voter needed to be registered 30 days before the primary or the general election.
The voter who cast the 14th affidavit listed a Louisville Street address but was listed in the city's computer as being registered to a Ward 6 Reed Road address. Sistrunk challenged this affidavit because the voter marked she had not recently moved, but commissioners voted to accept the document.
The commission first rejected the 15th affidavit after the voter failed to properly list his Louisville Street address but then left it in limbo for further research. The voter did not list the number of his address, just the street.
Another rejection followed as the commission kicked out the 16th affidavit because the voter lives outside of the city limits.
Address issues were also discovered with the 17th ballot. The voter stated she moved from North Jackson to McKee Street, but her mailing address was listed as Lynn Lane. The state election management computer system also listed her as inactive after her voter card, which was mailed to the Lynn Lane address, was returned.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch