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June 13, 2017 10:28:24 AM
Starkville attorney Johnny Moore asked a judge to mediate his contest of the May 16 Democratic primary runoff one day before his counsel was set to argue election issues before Oktibbeha County Democratic Party executives.
Filed Monday, Moore's petition for judicial review restates numerous alleged irregularities his Columbus-based attorney, William Starks, previously said influenced his client's six-vote loss to Mayor-elect Lynn Spruill and calls for rejected ballots to be accepted and accepted ballots to be rejected, or for a third mayoral election.
A judge from outside the 16th Circuit Court District is expected to be named to the case soon. The Oktibbeha County Circuit Clerk's office confirmed it sent Moore's petition to the state Supreme Court Monday to begin that process.
"I have had so much support from people throughout the community," Moore said in a release. "My aim is to make certain that every person who wanted to vote and was registered to vote gets his or her vote counted. I also want to make sure the election process is fairly administered. That's something we can all agree on."
The Moore campaign is challenging more than 60 of the 287 absentee votes Starkville received in the runoff. Specifically, the petition states eight of the 18 absentees rejected were valid, while 53 accepted ballots "do not comply with Mississippi law."
A new election is needed, Starks writes in the petition, because the comingling of legal and illegal ballots make "it impossible to discern the will of the voters in the race."
The petition also states election commissioners improperly rejected at least nine affidavits; numerous ballots contained improper and illegal marks; the numbers of signatures in voter receipt and poll books from certain precincts did not match the number ballots cast; and the entire election is invalid because, due to an issue with an improper contract with the Oktibbeha Democratic Party, the Starkville Municipal Election Committee did not have the legal authority to conduct the runoff.
The Moore campaign also took aim at the timing of the Democratic Party's Tuesday meeting. Candidates have 10 days to file a petition for judicial review in circuit court after filing a contest with a party's executive committee, and Tuesday's meeting was scheduled on the last day Moore could take his contest to court.
"In an election this close, there simply is no way to determine a winner when so many laws and procedures weren't followed," Starks said in a release. "Based on the overwhelming number of ballots that are presently in question, the hearing before the committee would not be completed in one day's time. ... We felt it was prudent to get the petition ... filed before the hearing in order to preserve my client's legal rights."
Attorney Jim Mozingo, who represents Spruill, said the party's hearing "is perfectly timely" and the group has acted "reasonably and in good faith."
"All the allegations of error that have been made are just that, and they are mostly very general. We do not understand why the Moore campaign, after choosing to run Democrat, is so anxious to avoid the committee," Mozingo said in a text message. "Nothing in the election contest disturbs us. We have always taken the position that all properly cast ballots should be counted. It is disappointing that the Moore campaign has felt the necessity to try the case in the press and seek to whip up emotion about matters not proven rather than rely on the process and its results."
Starkville Democratic Municipal Election Committee chair Patti Drapala confirmed party executives will still hold their 10 a.m. hearing Tuesday at City Hall.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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