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Election Commission says process has not changed

Ballot names are in same order always used

Rules for real estate and election ballots are the same – it’s location, location, location.

Location of names on the General Election ballot has caused some confusion this week since sample ballots were published and began circulating throughout the county. The Panola County Election Commission tried to clear up rumors and misinformation this week, explaining the process used to determine name placement on ballots.

Specifically, many callers and blog posters have noted that in the race for Sheriff, incumbent Dennis Darby is listed below the name of challenger Shane Phelps.

Some have accused Phelps’ wife, Circuit Clerk Melissa Meek-Phelps of working to place Phelps’ name above Darby’s seeking an advantage, perhaps from those mythical voters who ostensibly only mark first names on a ballot.

The Election Commission has repeatedly explained the process used to create ballots for the different state and local races, depending on what precincts are covered by individual races.

Darby has also tried to assure his supporters that name placement on Tuesday’s ballot is consistent with past elections, pointing out that four years ago he was listed second on the ballot below Mark Whitten, and was second on the ballot in 2011 below Otis Griffin. He won both of those races.

In Mississippi, the Secretary of State’s Office sends each county a ballot with the state races and uses the same system for each election – Democratic and Republican Party candidates are listed alphabetically, followed by all other parties (Constitution, Green, Libertarian, etc.) and any Independents.

Each county’s Election Commission then adds local races to the ballot at their own discretion. In Panola County, the commissioners have always chosen to follow the state’s lead in listing the major party candidates first (alphabetically by last names) followed by all others, again alphabetically.

“This is the way that it’s been done in Panola County, and we haven’t changed a thing,” said commissioner Wayne Belk on Thursday. In Primary Elections, candidates are also listed by last names on each party’s ballots.

The Sheriff’s race is not the only one on the ballot that has caused questions. For State Senate District 11, Independent Clara Dawkins is listed below Sen. Robert Jackson, again because he is a Democrat.

In the race for State House of Representatives District 10, the Democratic and Republican candidates – Bobby Dailey and Brady Williamson – are listed above Josh Hawkins, an Independent.

Also, some voters wonder why races are listed with just one candidate’s name. Those fortunate few either won their party’s primary in August, or were the only person to qualify for the post this election cycle.

For example, Panola County Attorney Charlie Gaines Baker this year had no opposition (or at least no declared opponents for his seat) and was the winner when the qualifying process was over. His name will still appear on the General Election ballot.

Conversely, candidates who qualified to fill open trustee seats in both South Panola and North Panola School Districts where no one else qualified, will not be listed on the ballot.

Being the only candidates to qualify for their races, Lygunnah Bean will serve another four years as trustee for South Panola, and Deborah Armstrong-Tucker will retain her seat on the North Panola board for another term.