Rupert Howell editorial 3/6/2015

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 6, 2015

Election season lengthened by independent surge

This election year is shaping up to be much different than past elections in that many contested races will not be finalized until the November general election.

Local elections, like many in Mississippi, were usually decided in the August Democratic Primary.

While statewide office holders, with the exception of Attorney General Jim Hood, have recently been elected through the Republican primaries, local sentiment leans Democrat especially in Panola and other Delta located counties.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

That can be attributed to our past when the Democrat party became the most lenient by accepting African Americans into their fold during the 1960s and 1970s when voters’ drives added names of black Panolians to the rolls sharing the power of the vote.

During this time black citizens learned the value of organization and working together for the common goal of electing the candidate best suited to promote their rights and culture.

Smart politicians recognized the opportunity and began to cater to the large block of newly enfranchised voters. Blacks who ran for office during early enfranchisement did not win many elections, but their numbers could often determine the election’s outcomes.

Move forward a few years and African Americans were regularly elected from smaller districts such as school board trustees and county supervisors.

When Otis Griffin became the first African American recently elected to county-wide office in Panola, he was serving as interim in that position fulfilling a vacancy created when his boss, Sheriff Shot Bright died. He won the election that filled the remainder of the unexpired term of sheriff after serving that position in interim by appointment of Panola’s supervisors.

Current sheriff Dennis Darby unseated Griffin, running as an independent in 2011 and bypassing the primary election during the last election cycle.

For this election cycle several have listed their names under the independent banner including a number of  African American candidates which may for the first time pull the large block of black candidates away from the Democratic banner in August primaries and in the general election when party primary winners face independents.

Voters in that election can cross party lines voting for any name listed on the ballot, but traditionally those black votes were almost all Democrat.

Another point of interest in the November face-off is that a majority is not required. A plurality, meaning the candidate with the most votes, wins the election whether its as high as 100 percent of the vote or as low as 34 percent (in a three-candidate race). The same holds true in the 2nd Judicial District Justice Court Judge race and there will be five candidates on general election ballot where three independents will face a Republican  and the winner of the Democratic primary. Twenty-one percent of the vote could possibly win that election.
Regardless, this should be an interesting election year.