Time an issue with Ward 4 primary challenge

May 28, 2013 9:33:10 AM

Carl Smith - [email protected]


The clock is ticking on Ward 4 candidate John Gaskin's request for a new election. 


Gaskin's attorney, Matthew Wilson, formally challenged the May 7 Democratic Primary Friday, but the Starkville Democratic Municipal Election Committee had yet to take action on the request by Monday. 


As of today, seven days remain until the June 4 general election. 


Wilson told the Dispatch Friday if the Democratic election committee did not move quickly on the challenge, his next step would involve a legal filing with circuit court. 


When SDMEC member Chris Taylor was served late Friday afternoon with the challenge, Taylor said he had five days to gather the committee and move forward toward a hearing. It was unclear if Taylor was counting the weekend or Monday's holiday. 


Counting Monday's holiday while disregarding the weekend, Friday marks the fifth day since the challenge's receipt. 


Taylor said he was hopeful to meet with committee members 6 p.m. today at an Oktibbeha County Democratic Party meeting at the courthouse in order to plan the next move. 


Even if SDMEC members decide to hold a hearing, the group would still require time to notice both candidates. Logistical planning - setting the time, place and date - would also be needed but is not expected to take a large amount of time. 


An affirmative ruling for Gaskin would mean officials then would have to develop a new Ward 4-specific ballot, including the local race with the mayoral election between incumbent Parker Wiseman and GOP candidate Dan Moreland. 


Saturday marks the deadline for absentee voting as well. It is not known how many Ward 4 voters have voted absentee at this point without knowing if their ballot would require a pre-election amendment, and it is not clear how officials would proceed if the absentee voting period was not a true reflection of the June 4 race. 


Gaskin and Jason Walker finished the May 7 primary tied at 186 votes, but the SDMEC counted 12 of 16 affidavit ballots the next day. Walker picked up eight of those, defeating Gaskin 194-190. 


Gaskin filed paperwork with the city requesting to examine his ward's ballot boxes on May 17. Following the examination, Wilson said he reached the conclusion that poll workers did not completely fill out required information on those 12 affidavits. Redistricting also led to Ward 4 voters casting ballots in Ward 5, he said, when poll workers did not direct them to 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 Friday. "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." 


Phone calls and text messages to Gaskin went unreturned Friday and Monday. 


"Now it's in the hands of the Democratic committee," Walker said Friday. "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." 


Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch