Miss. Supreme Court upholds write-in election

Published 1:59 pm Friday, October 29, 2010

The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a November write-in election for a judicial post in Covington, Jasper, Simpson and Smith counties will go on as scheduled.

The Supreme Court in a 7-0 decision rejected an appeal from a group of elected officials in the four counties.

The election is Tuesday.

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The Supreme Court said while it may have reservations about a write-in election for judge, it could find nothing wrong with the decision by the state Board of Election Commissioners.

Circuit Court Judge Robert Evans died in July. He was the only candidate to qualify for the position in the 13th Judicial District. No candidate’s name will appear on the ballot for the judicial post, and the only way to cast a vote is by write-in.

“The Legislature has provided for a write-in election to occur in the event of the death of ‘any candidate’ who has qualified. Although the Legislature has imposed unique qualifications upon judicial candidates, it did not exclude judicial candidates from its provision for a write-in election in the event of a qualified candidate’s death,” Justice David Anthony Chandler wrote in the decision.

The plaintiffs have expressed concerns that confusion about how to vote write-in on electronic machines would be complicated for some people who would leave the polls in frustration.

That view was shared by some members of the Supreme Court.

Justice Michael Randolph said he would expect some confusion among voters unfamiliar with how to handle a write-in ballot but the closeness of the election left the court with no option.

Justice Randy Pierce said he did not find the interpretation of the law by the election commissioners as unreasonable.

“Judge Evans’ death has left a void in Mississippi’s judicial system. Compounding this misfortune, the petitioners have no good way to select his replacement. Post-election challenges ranging from candidate qualifications to misspelled names will be no surprise. However, the law requires a general election to occur, and the Election Commission has chosen this method in their particularized wisdom,” Pierce said.

Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann and his staff have been fanning out across south Mississippi this month to hold public meetings and explain the process.

According to the secretary of state’s office, a voter will choose “Write-In” on the electronic machine, a touch pad will prompt the voter to type the name of a candidate. On affidavit or absentee ballots, a voter will use pencil and paper for the write-in portion.

If no candidate receives the majority of the vote, a runoff will be held Nov. 23 between the top two vote-getters.