New law forces chancery clerk candidates to temporarily pull signs

Oktibbeha County Courthouse (courtesy)

Political signs for candidates in the race for Oktibbeha County chancery clerk have been, or will be, totally removed from inside the city limits - but not because of any actions by the six candidates.

Both chambers of the Mississippi Legislature unanimously passed a resolution during the last regular session that strips counties of any ability to hold a primary election after July 1. While the new election date brought the biggest impact on the race, the large field of candidates have had signs out in the city for weeks and will now have to temporarily remove them in accordance with the new law.

The special election will now be held on Nov. 7 and candidates will be able to place signs 90 days prior to the election.

Oktibbeha County Republican Executive Committee Chairwoman Marnita Henderson told the SDN that potential voters have asked candidates and party officials why the signs have been removed, which she said underscores the confusion wrought by the sweeping changes in the state's voting laws.

“It’s not the party, it’s both (parties),” Henderson said. “But I would like for people to know and understand why the signs are having to be taken up.”

Mississippi’s Calhoun County faced the same issue and requested an opinion from Attorney General Jim Hood’s office concerning the county’s special election in November.

The opinion states:

“Since the elections law in effect on August 1, 2017, will provide no legal authority for a political party to conduct a primary to select a nominee for a special election to fill a vacancy in a county or county district office, you should not proceed with any preparations for the scheduled primary. Any eligible person may qualify as a candidate in the November 7, 2017 special election by filing, not later than 5:00 p.m. on Friday, September 8, 2017, a petition with the Board of Supervisors signed by not less than fifteen (15) qualified electors of the supervisor’s district where the vacancy exists.”

Four Democrats and two Republicans qualified for the race, with the runoff date slated for Nov. 28, if necessary. While party lines were first drawn prior to the legislative resolution being signed into law by Republican Governor Phil Bryant, candidates will now have to qualify again as Independents to be on the ballot in November.

Qualified Democrats prior to the bill signing included Martesa Flowers, Margaret Jordan, Sharon Livingston and Hattie Ridgel.

Livingston currently serves as interim chancery clerk - a post she was named to following the death of Chancery Clerk Monica Banks in September 2016.

The Republicans on the ticket prior to the decision were Tina Fisher and Barbara Mitchell.

Assistant Secretary of State of Communications Leah Smith told the SDN candidates have 60 days prior to the election to qualify. For candidates to qualify, each must submit a petition signed by 15 qualified electors along with a $100 qualifying fee.

The winner of the special election in November will serve out the remainder of Banks’ term through 2020.