By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Second District Lee County election commissioner candidate Wayne Chrestman has a problem.
Chrestman, of Tupelo, had qualified this spring to run for office. This summer, the lines changed. Now Chrestman lives in District 3 even though the ballots still list him as a District 2 candidate.
With the election set for Tuesday, the clock’s ticking to find a solution that so far has eluded election officials.
Circuit Clerk Joyce Loftin, who oversees county elections, said it’s a first for her; she doesn’t know what to do. The Mississippi Secretary of State’s office, which oversees statewide elections, referred the question to the Attorney General’s office.
And Attorney General spokesman Jan Schaefer referred to a 1991 opinion that still might not help Chrestman in time for Tuesday.
“The county election commission or the county registrar could make the necessary administrative change on a qualifying petition if a candidate’s district of residence is changed by redistricting,” wrote then-Attorney General Mike Moore in response to a Franklin County circuit clerk.
Loftin said she’ll review the opinion but it’s too late to change the ballots, which means District 3 voters won’t see Chrestman’s name.
In the meantime, Chrestman called the situation perplexing, especially since he knew nothing about it until Thursday when getting his absentee ballot.
Circuit Clerk employees gave Chrestman the District 3 ballot. He told them they erred; he votes in District 2. They told him the lines changed in August and now he’s in District 3.
Chrestman admitted the clerk’s office had warned him of redistricting when he obtained qualifying papers in May but said someone should have told him the lines changed when it happened.
Current 1st District Commissioner William S. Pickens also lost his turf through redistricting, but he had followed the mapping process and anticipated the change before the qualifying deadline, Loftin said. He registered in District 5 this spring.
“The Board of Supervisors did the redistricting and held meetings about it,” Loftin said. “Mr. Pickens went to them, anybody could have gone to them.”
The county board had approved its new district maps before the June 4 qualifying deadline, but the U.S. Department of Justice didn’t make them official until mid-August.
All of which illustrates Chrestman’s reason for running: “To bring free and fair elections to Lee County and to make voting easier.”