Moore mulling options with 30 days to appeal election contest ruling


Mayor Lynn Spruill (left) and challenger Johnny Moore

By: 
Ryan Phillips
SDN Editor

The 30-day window for an appeal to the Mississippi Supreme Court by Democratic mayoral challenger Johnny Moore has begun after the final judgement was filed in Oktibbeha County Circuit Court on Thursday declaring Starkville Mayor Lynn Spruill the winner of the May 2017 Democratic Primary runoff for mayor. 

Judge Barry Ford, who was appointed by the Mississippi Supreme Court to rule on the case, ruled from the bench in July that there was no justification in the facts or law to hold a new election, which was requested by Moore after alleging “various improper vote counts.” 

According to the judgement, the court found that only one of Moore’s allegations were valid, when one vote in Ward 1 was cast for “none of the above,” but counted toward Spruill’s vote total. This vote was ultimately counted and decreased Spruill’s margin of victory from six votes to five. 

Moore’s legal counsel, Columbus attorney William Starks, told the Starkville Daily News on Thursday that Moore is considering his options, but wanted to wait until the final judgement was entered before making a decision on a possible appeal to the state’s highest court. 

Spruill was sworn in as the city’s first female mayor on July 3, 2017 and will serve her first term through June 30, 2021. 

On Thursday, Spruill said the judgement was the result of the order that Judge Ford instructed her attorneys to submit, which started the 30-day clock for a potential appeal from Moore’s team. 

“In the meantime, we will continue along the path of progress that I believe we have charted,” Spruill said. “I don’t know what (Moore’s) intentions are but I am sure he will do what he believes is right.” 

Spruill’s attorney, Jim Mozingo, told the Starkville Daily News Moore has until Monday, Sept. 17 to file a notice of appeal. 

“Lynn Spruill will continue to do her very best every day for the city of Starkville,” he said following the judgement. 

AFFIDAVIT BALLOTS

Starks argued that eight affidavit ballots that were rejected by election commissioners should have been opened and counted. 

According to Mississippi Code Ann. §23-15-273, the law on affidavit ballots establishes which individuals may be entitled to vote by an affidavit ballot. 

Judge Ford ruled that there was no proof that any of the eight individuals who sought to vote by way of affidavit ballot were denied the ability to do so. It was then determined by the court that none of the eight affidavit ballots in question by Moore were filled out completely and accurately. 

Starks said on Thursday that the eight ballots in question were completely filled out will all the necessary information and said it was surprising that there was not a ballot-by-ballot itemization to explain why each ballot was rejected. 

“Some of those voters were very upset because they did absolutely everything right,” Starks said. “We feel like one of the reasons in the judgement was not living in city of Starkville and I don’t think there was any proof that anyone lived outside the city limits with the eight affidavits ballots particularly.” 

In the judgement, the court also recognized that an erroneous ruling on the affidavit ballot of David Alexander Moore was made during the trial and was ultimately withdrawn. However, Ford ruled from the bench that regardless of how the affidavit ballot was cast, whether it be for Moore or Spruill, it would ultimately not impact the outcome of the election, so the decision was made to not open the ballot. 

“When the Court considers the faulty and incomplete affidavit forms, as well as the information available from the Statewide Election Management System on May 17, 2017, it finds that the Starkville Municipal Election Commission did not unreasonably reject the affidavit ballots in question,” according to the judgement. 

ABSENTEE BALLOTS

In his Petition for Judicial Review, Moore states that there were absentee ballots that were accepted by poll workers which should have been rejected. 

According to the Moore team’s expert, Pete Perry, 52 absentee ballots were identified which he believes were accepted by the poll workers when they should have been. 

Perry also testified during the proceedings that he found one or more fatal statutory deficiencies with each of the 52 absentee ballots in question. 

The court then examined all 52 ballot envelopes and only found one of them should be rejected, which was a ballot cast in Ward 2 that did not have the required attesting signature. The same logic was then applied to the absentee vote from Ward 2 as the previously rejected ballot in Ward 1, and Judge Ford determined that regardless of who received the vote, the outcome would still be in Spruill’s favor. 

 

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