As the Nov. 2 general election approaches, members of the Oktibbeha County Election Commission and the staff at the Circuit Clerk’s Office have received numerous questions from local voters about why there are three raises for Circuit Court judge on this year’s ballot.
The answer comes from a piece of legislation enacted by state lawmakers in 2005.
The legislation — Senate Bill 2339 — sought to redistrict the state’s chancery and circuit court system.
Sections of the Mississippi Code adopted in 1972 dealt specifically with the circuit and chancery court districts in the state.
In several chancery and circuit districts, judges were elected by what was termed as “running in the herd.”
This meant that all candidates for judge in the districts, which cover multiple counties, were placed on the ballot in one big pool, and the top vote-getters would be elected to fill the number of judgeships in the specific chancery or circuit district.
Some districts, however, already had judges elected according to “place,” meaning that they would be elected from a specific county in the district, though all voters in the multi-county district would vote in the race.
Such is true for Oktibbeha County, which lies within the 14th Chancery District. The chancery judges are elected by place.
That hasn’t been the case with the judges in 16th Circuit Court District, which have elected by “running in the herd.” The 16th Circuit Court District is comprised of Oktibbeha, Clay, Lowndes and Noxubee counties.
Senate Bill 2339, upon being signed into law by Gov. Haley Barbour, changed that, not only designating that the judges would run by place, but also adding a third judgeship within the 16th Circuit Court District.
All judicial races remain non-partisan, which means candidates do not run according to political party affiliation.
In the 16th Circuit Court District, the judge elected for Place 1 must live in Lowndes County. Incumbent Jim Kitchens is running against challenger William Starks for the Place 1 judgeship.
The judge elected for Place 2 must live in Oktibbeha County. Incumbent Lee Howard is running unopposed for the Place 2 judgeship.
The judge elected for the newly created Place 3 must live in either Clay County or Noxubee County. Seeking election to the Place 3 judgeship are Lee S. Coleman, Bob Marshall and Nebra Porter.
Though the Circuit Court judicial candidates are running to represent the specific place, voters in all four counties will cast ballots in all three races, according to Mississippi Code section 9-7-44 as amended by the adoption of Senate Bill 2339 in 2005.
For more information about voting in the judicial races, call the Circuit Clerk’s Office at 323-1356 during regular business hours (8 a.m. to 5 p.m.) Monday to Friday. The office is located in the Oktibbeha County Courthouse Annex on West Main Street.
Editor’s note: The staff of the Starkville Daily News is currently preparing stories profiling the contested races for Circuit Court judge. These stories will be published within the next few days.