June 18, 2013 10:41:08 AM
Carl Smith - [email protected]
Attorneys for alderman candidate John Gaskin filed a petition for judicial review for the Ward 4 Democratic Primary with the Oktibbeha County Circuit Court, documents show.
The complaint lists the Starkville Municipal Democratic Executive Committee and incoming Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker as defendants. Officials with the circuit clerk's office say a hearing date has not been set. Walker's lawyer, Lydia Quarles, is expected to file a response by the end of the week.
Gaskin's lawyers previously called for a new primary election due to issues which developed during the primary. The complaint states the May 7 primary "should be voided because there has been such a departure from statutory compliance as to destroy the integrity of the election and make the will of the qualified electors impossible to ascertain."
A special election is warranted, it states, because "there were clearly illegal votes cast in this election which would change the result of the election, including but not limited to voters from other wards voting in Ward 4 and affidavit votes begin (sic) counted contrary to the statutory mandate for affidavit ballots and their envelopes. Additionally, a sufficient number of voters were prevented from voting due to redistricting errors."
"The outcome of the election could easily have been changed with the small margin of votes had the appropriate actions been taken," the complaint alledges.
Gaskin and 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 votes, defeating Gaskin 194-190.
A May 24 petition contesting the primary states all Ward 4 affidavits should have been declared invalid since none contained a specific line of written information from the poll manager and accepted affidavits were not contained in a sealed box when the ballot box was examined post-election.
"Therefore, there is no indication on these ballots which precinct or ward they were issued from," Gaskin's previous petition states.
Redistricting errors also "thwarted the will of the voters" in Ward 4, the petition states. Ward 4 voters residing at Windermere Townhouse Complex and within the 500 block of East Gillespie Street
were listed on the Ward 5 voter rolls during the primary, it claims. Documents state 68 voters at Windermere were listed on voter rolls as of March 8, while at least 30 registered voters reside in the affected East Gillespie block.
Poll workers were provided supplemental lists of Gillespie voters who were affected by redistricting errors, the petition states. Two voters residing at 518 East Gillespie St. were told to vote in Ward 5, it states.
"Thus, it is apparent that the poling officials at Ward 5 were either not provided this supplemental list and not told to redirect to Ward 4, or they failed in doing so since these two voters cast ballots in Ward 5 despite being residents in Ward 4," the petition states.
The claim also alleges a Ward 5 resident who lives on South Montgomery Street voted in the Ward 4 primary and alludes to the likelihood of others voting in the incorrect precinct.
Finally, the petition also states at least four individual votes which were counted should have been rejected due to out-of-ward absentee voting and failures to provide accurate information on the affidavits. Two other rejected affidavits should have been accepted, it states, since one voter was actually listed in the Ward 4 voter roll and another was mistakenly left off the same list.
A SDMEC hearing on Gaskin's original petition was scheduled for May 31 but canceled a day before due to prior obligations made by its members. Gaskin's counsel previously told the Dispatch it could file a petition with circuit court if the committee did not act within a reasonable amount of time.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch