May 31, 2013 10:37:15 AM
Carl Smith - [email protected]
Ward 4 candidate John Gaskin's lawyer says he hopes members of the Democratic Party will listen to his client's election appeal on June 7 after today's hearing was canceled by the party.
Gaskin's primary lawyer, David Mays of Roberson Law Firm, said Thursday he was in the process of contacting Democratic Party representative Chris Taylor about rescheduling the session. The meeting was canceled Thursday after Taylor said the Democratic committee would not have enough officers available Friday due to previous obligations.
Mays took over as Gaskin's chief spokesperson after Matthew Wilson first spoke on the candidate's behalf when the challenge was filed last week.
"(Next Friday) would allow them to give proper notice to both sides. They can then make a determination based upon who the executive committee thinks the winner is," Mays said. "We want the opportunity to present our side and for the other side to be able to object or present evidence. We feel next Friday provides reasonable promptness; it would be sufficient, but we are flexible."
Wilson said last week litigation could be filed with the Oktibbeha County Circuit Court if the Democratic Party did not act on Gaskin's challenge in a timely manner, but Mays said he is not utilizing that option. Circuit Clerk Glenn Hamilton confirmed no litigation had been filed with his office late Thursday.
"We'll cross that bridge when we get there," Mays said.
The Dispatch learned Ward 4 Alderman-elect Jason Walker is now represented by attorney Lydia Quarles, the same representative who handled numerous affidavit challenges for outgoing Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk during that primary's processing.
"My stance is I'm ready for this to be over. I feel like I'm clearly the winner of this election, and at this point it's time for me to move forward and start working for the people of Starkville," Walker said.
Gaskin formally challenged the Ward 4 Democratic Primary almost three weeks after the election. The two candidates ended the May 7 primary tied at 186 votes, but the Starkville Democratic Municipal Election Committee counted 12 of 16 affidavit ballots the next day. Walker picked up eight of those, defeating Gaskin 194-190.
The Democratic election committee rejected two of the affidavits because poll workers initialed the legal documents instead of signing them. The committee made its decision after receiving guidance from the Mississippi Secretary of State's Office.
Gaskin chose to examine his ward's ballots on May 17. That inspection led to the conclusion that poll workers did not completely fill out required information on those 12 affidavits, Wilson said last week. Redistricting also led to at least one Ward 4 voter casting his or her ballot in Ward 5, he said, when poll workers did not direct the voter to the proper precinct.
At a monthly party meeting Tuesday, Taylor confirmed only one person incorrectly voted outside of Ward 4. Taylor also said there was no way the Democratic Party could add the Ward 4 race to the Tuesday general election ballot if representatives ruled in favor of Gaskin's request.
"Whenever you redraw lines, there's going to be conflict (in the first election)," Taylor said in reference to redistricting Tuesday. "Those names will not, cannot appear (Tuesday). It's too late to be added."
In another election-related matter, the Starkville City Clerk's office will remain open until noon Saturday to accommodate last-minute absentee voters. The office will open at 8 a.m. and is located at 101 East Lampkin St. The Dispatch observed numerous absentee voters in the city office this week. It is believed at least 100 people have cast those ballots.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch