Deputies are not certified

Published 3:35 pm Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Election Commission say candidates can’t be re-instated

By Jeremy Weldon

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The Panola County Election Commission heard from two candidates who were disqualified for this fall’s county-wide elections at the board’s regular monthly meeting Tuesday at the Batesville Courthouse.

Both Adrian Kirkwood and Darryl House asked to the board to reconsider their decision to disqualify them, and Kirkwood retained an Oxford lawyer to make his case to the board. The commissioners explained why the two had been disqualified, and took questions from a group of supporters of the potential candidates before moving on to other business.

The Election Commission has no authority to return a candidate to the field of qualified office seekers once they have been taken out because of violations of rules, board members said.

After the meeting, commissioner Wayne Belk said his understanding was that aggrieved parties could make petition to the Circuit Court for relief, but the office of the Mississippi Secretary of State had specifically said the local Election Commission could not take such action.

Kirkwood and House are both deputies at the Panola County Sheriff’s Department and both were seeking to qualify to run as Independents for Post 1 Constable. Additionally, Kirkwood is police chief in the Town of Crenshaw. Both were informed of the commission’s decision to remove their names from the list of qualified candidates after the board met March 5.

It was at that regular meeting the members were tasked with checking the paperwork filed by all Independent candidates for county elections. Democratic and Republican candidates are certified by their respective county parties, often after the August primaries are finished.

The Election Commission is charged with checking the paperwork submitted by Independent candidates to the Circuit Clerk’s office. Both Kirkwood and House had paperwork that was filled out incorrectly.

Kirkwood’s attorney, Ron Lewis, admitted to the commission his client was withdrawing his challenge, realizing that state law is settled on the fact that signatures gathered by potential candidates in the qualifying process must have the candidate’s name, office for which he or she is running, and the date of the election at the top of the page.

Only the first page of signatures had that required information. Board chairman Dorothy Wilbourn told the candidates she, and other members, were sorry for the confusion and had no intention of disqualifying any candidate, but the state election laws had clearly been violated.

Supporters of the two candidates questioned Wilbourn about rumors that some candidates had been called by the Circuit Clerk’s office to correct their paperwork. Wilbourn said the board only saw the candidates paperwork at the March 5 meeting, and members had no control of the process before that date.

Belk said later he was not happy with the accusations of wrongdoing in the Circuit Clerk’s office, and reiterated that the confusion was caused not by the deputy clerks, but by the candidates’ failure to fill out the paperwork correctly.

Several other Independent candidates for county offices did have correct paperwork and they were quickly certified, Belk said.

Circuit Clerk Melissa Meek-Phelps did not attend the meeting, but said later her office “absolutely did not” offer extra help to any candidates. Kirkwood’s complaint was centered on the fact he turned his paperwork in early, almost two months before the deadline, and he was not contacted by the Circuit Clerk’s office as others were.

Phelps said Kirkwood was not contacted because neither she, nor her deputies, found anything wrong with the portion of his paperwork her office is required to check. For Independent candidates, the deputies need only to check the signatures gathered to determine that each person signing the petition is in fact a registered voter living in the district the race is for.

Phelps said all of Kirkwood’s signatures were from qualified voters. There were other candidates who had gathered signatures from voters living outside their district. Phelps said she contacted the Secretary of State’s Office about those candidates’ paperwork and was told deputies should call those candidates and inform them different signatures were needed.

“I hate this worse than anything,” Phelps said. “I want everyone in Panola County who wants to run for office to be able to do that. This office has no control over anything once candidates turn in their paperwork and we turn it over to the Election Commission.”

Neither KIrkwood nor House indicated they would make court filings pertaining to the Election Commission’s ruling. The primary is set for Aug. 6 and the general election is Nov. 5.