May 24, 2013 6:06:57 PM
Carl Smith - [email protected]
Ward 4 candidate John Gaskin's attorney, Matthew Wilson, confirmed he has formally challenged the May 7 Democratic primary and is seeking a new election during the June 4 general election.
Wilson filed the challenge with the Starkville Democratic Municipal Election Committee Friday about 4 p.m. Democratic election committee member Chris Taylor confirmed he was served with those papers.
Gaskin and his opponent, Jason Walker, finished the May 7 primary tied at 186, but the SDMEC counted 12 of 16 affidavit ballots the next day. Walker picked up eight of those votes, defeating Gaskin 194-190.
Gaskin then filed paperwork with the city requesting to examine his ward's ballot boxes on May 17. That review, according to documents, occurred Monday.
Following the examination, Wilson said he reached the conclusion that poll workers did not completely fill out required information on 12 of the 16 affidavits accepted by the SDMEC on May 8. Redistricting also led to Ward 4 voters casting ballots in Ward 5, he said, when poll workers did not direct them to the proper precincts.
"We believe (the lack of information) was a fatal error in the affidavit process. If they're not filled out completely, then they're not proper," Wilson said. "After redistricting, honest mistakes happen when you've changed districts like that. We're not challenging the integrity of the poll workers, but however inadvertent, however unintentional those mistakes are, when an election is decided by four votes, those mistakes can turn it your way. We want to get it right."
A phone call to Gaskin went unreturned Friday afternoon.
The city's democratic election committee must now hold a hearing on the matter. Taylor said he has five days to gather the group and hold that meeting. Wilson said if the SDMEC does not act in a timely manner, the next step would be to file litigation with the circuit court.
Because of Monday's Memorial Day holiday, Taylor said it would be difficult to confer with committee members until Tuesday. He offered no further comment on the situation until he could review the state's election codes.
Walker said he was aware of a challenge, at least unofficially, when contacted by the Dispatch Friday.
"Now it's in the hands of the Democratic committee," he said. "I want it to be done right, but I'm ready for the process to be over. I'm ready to take on the next four years and do as well as I can for Starkville."
Follow @StarkDispatch on Twitter for updates on the Ward 4 challenge.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch