Local Democrats set hearing date for Ward 4 challenge

May 29, 2013 10:34:06 AM

Carl Smith - [email protected]


Local Democrats will hear Ward 4 candidate John Gaskin's election appeal at 8:15 a.m. Friday at City Hall. 


Chris Taylor, a member of the Starkville Democratic Municipal Election Committee and an executive member of the party's local chapter, confirmed the meeting's logistics Tuesday at a monthly party meeting. 


While he did not comment on the appeal and Gaskin's desire for a new election, Taylor did say there was not enough time remaining before the June 4 general election to place an additional Ward 4-specific race on the ballot. 


"Those names will not, cannot appear," Taylor told Democratic Party members Tuesday. "It's too late to be added." 


Taylor did confirm three party members will be present Friday for the hearing. 


Gaskin's attorney, Matthew Wilson, previously told the Dispatch he would seek litigation with the circuit court if the Democratic Party did not move quickly enough on the challenge. 


Wilson formally challenged the May 7 primary on Gaskin's behalf Friday. Taylor and Ward 4's winner, Jason Walker, were served with paperwork Friday afternoon about 5 p.m. Taylor previously said he had five days to act on the challenge, and Tuesday started the countdown because of the late filing and Monday's holiday. 


Gaskin and Walker ended 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 chose to examine his ward's ballots on May 17. That inspection, Wilson said, led him to reach 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 the proper precincts. 


Taylor said he examined voting materials as well, and only one person voted out of their ward. 


"Whenever you redraw lines, there's going to be conflict (in the first election)," he said Tuesday. 


Election commissioners would face issues with absentee Ward 4 ballots if they did rule in Gaskin's favor and place the Ward 4 election back on the ballot. The city has collected 98 absentee ballots, Taylor said, but those only reflect the mayoral election between incumbent Parker Wiseman and GOP candidate Dan Moreland. 


If the commission did add the race to the election, officials would face a last-minute ballot adjustment. The city clerk's office is scheduled to remain open 8 a.m. until noon Saturday to accommodate absentee voters, which would not afford a long-term opportunity for Ward 4 residents.

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