Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann is on a crusade to ensure the write-in balloting for two judicial posts works as smoothly as possible in the Nov. 2 general election.
Hosemann and his staff have been fanning out across south Mississippi this month to hold public meetings and explain the process.
The write-in ballots were made necessary when District 13 Circuit Judge Robert Evans, who was running unopposed, died in July; and District 10 Chancery Judge James Thomas Jr., who also was unopposed, died Oct. 1.
“This is historic. This has never happened in Mississippi since 1817 that we could find,” Hosemann told a public meeting this past week in Hattiesburg.
Circuit District 13 comprises Covington, Jasper, Simpson and Smith counties. Chancery District 10 includes Forrest, Lamar, Marion, Pearl River and Perry counties.
The District 13 write-in ballot was upheld last week by Special Circuit Judge Henry Lackey. The attorney general’s office said no legal challenge has been filed in the District 10 election.
The state Board of Election Commissioners decided that a write-in election was required in each race.
Assistant Attorney General Harold Pizzetta told Lackey during the hearing that a key point to consider was that the Nov. 2 election in District 13 isn’t a special election to serve out Evans’ term. It is the regularly scheduled election for a new four-year term.
Pizzetta said write-in options are available in all Mississippi elections. He said local poll managers and election commission members should be trained to help voters.
Hosemann said the District 13 circuit court ballot is blank, but Thomas’ name remains on the District 10 chancery court ballot because it had already been printed and sent to the affected counties.
In Hattiesburg, Hosemann said if Thomas receives the most votes, the governor will appoint a judge for one year, and the position will go up for election again in 2011. If no candidate receives a majority, a runoff will be held Nov. 23.
Hosemann said the Election Commission has sent letters to all qualified attorneys in the counties affected. He said his office will issue a news release when a candidate files the affidavit required to run a campaign committee raising more than $200.
He said the state Election Commission plans to appoint a resolution board to determine the will of the voter in cases of misspellings and other confusion.
Hosemann’s office has also disseminated information about how the write-in ballots would be handled on electronic voting machines – one of the issues raised by plaintiffs in the District 13 lawsuit.
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.
Hosemann said he hopes voters will take the process seriously.
“Voting for a ‘Donald Duck’ or a ‘Mickey Mouse’ is not funny; it’s a mockery of our democracy,” Hosemann said in a written statement. “Our servicemen and women fight and die for your right to cast a ballot.”
Lackey expressed some reservations about the write-in election as he – with some apparent reluctance – upheld its legality.
Lackey said he was concerned about “the consequences” of holding an election where the qualifications of a candidate, especially a judicial candidate, would not be verified.
JACK ELLIOTT JR. / The Associated Press